BREAKING NEWS: Town sets sights on new town hall

By John Gardner
The Surveyor

The Town of Berthoud is working on an agreement with Guaranty Bank to purchase the building that would become Berthoud’s new town hall.

According to Town Administrator Mike Hart, the agreement, which will seek approval from Berthoud’s board of trustees on March 8, would effectively move town employees to the Guaranty Bank building, located at 807 Mountain Ave., near Hays Market, from its current location at 328 Massachusetts Ave, where town operations have been housed for 86 years.

All the town’s services and business would be conducted at the new facility. However, the agreement would also make the town essentially a landlord because, according to the agreement, the town would lease space back to current businesses in the building – including Guaranty Bank.

“Guaranty Bank would stay in the building as well,” said Jody Soper, Guaranty Bank’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “We’ll continue to serve our customers out of there, we’ll just lease back a portion and the town would take over the rest.”

The $2.4 million agreement includes the building and furnishings, according to Hart, and is timely.

“We have completely outgrown this facility, and we need a place we can grow into,” Hart said.

It’s cost effective as well.

“The cost of getting into this is less than half of the cost to build a new building,” Hart said. “And we’re getting it furnished.”

Currently, the upstairs of the nearly 17,000 square feet Guaranty Bank building is leased out to other businesses; an Edward Jones office and Cultura Technologies, a Web-based agriculture solutions company. Berthoud employees would utilize the office space and lobby area on the ground level and office space on the basement level. The town of Berthoud has 18 employees with offices in town hall. All employees, including police services, would relocate to the new building.

But it’s unclear when the move would occur if the trustees approve the deal. According to Hart, the move could occur as soon as late March or early April, but it depends on the agreement between the town and the bank on how much space the bank will lease.

“It all depends on the bank. They’ve got a couple of months to think about it, but the bank has to get back to us to say what their space requirements will be,” Hart indicated.

The bank hasn’t been actively trying to sell the building, according to Soper, but when this option came up, the bank approached the town with the idea.

“It’s just such a big building where we don’t need all that space,” Soper said. “We could try to sublease it, but we don’t want to be a landlord either. Our business is to serve customers out of the bank.”

The town and banking officials have been discussing the possible sale for a while, according to Hart. The conversation got renewed about six months ago, Hart said, when the bank approached Hart to see if the town would be interested in the building.

“It was them reaching a hand out to us and us being able to make it work this time,” Hart said.

“From the bank’s perspective, it’s a best-case scenario for the bank to lease space rather than have all of its capital tied up in the building,” said Debbie Davis, Berthoud branch president for Guaranty Bank.

Hart said finding a new town hall is one of the goals included in the town’s updated strategic plan. Some obstacles were the cost and location of building a new facility, which on Mountain Avenue would have to be either further west or further east of downtown to accommodate for the size needed.

“This is just in the middle of everything, it’s everything that the board asked for, looks like a town hall, it just couldn’t be a neater deal I think,” Hart said.

There isn’t a plan for what the town would do with the current town hall. Municipal court and trustee meetings would likely continue in the current boardroom, according to Hart, until a permanent solution can be determined. He indicated trustees could use the basement meeting room at the bank building for board meetings if needed.

“I just don’t want to get in a hurry and redo anything,” he said, “We’re better off to just be patient until it unfolds and do it that way.”

The trustees have to approve a supplemental budget appropriation to finalize the deal. The funds for the purchase come from impact fees collected from development for this specific purpose, according to Hart. If trustees approve the agreement, it could be final by the end of March.

“We have a signed agreement, but that agreement is null and void without board approval,” Hart said.

If approved at the March 8 meeting, trustees would need to appropriate funds at its March 22 meeting in order to finalize the deal.

The bank has some time to decide what it wants to do, but as of the date of closing the town begins receiving rent money from the bank and other tenants on the property, “so we automatically start getting a return the day we close on the building,” Hart said.

“Our return on investment is a lot more than our cash is earning in the bank right now,” Hart said. “So either way, if the [bank] wants to lease it for 10 years it’s a good deal.”

And Hart believes this agreement is an innovative way to meet the town’s growing demands as well as several local businesses’.

“You’ve kind of got a unique situation where town hall is more than a town hall,” Hart said. “It becomes more like a business center.”