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Volunteers help put together boxes for pickup recently in the storage room at the Community Food Cupboard located inside Manchester Town Hall.

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Moving Manchester’s town offices from their perch north of downtown back to Depot Street, where they sat for generations, was worth studying.

But now that option is off the table, and it’s time to move forward with the more important question: Can the town’s land at 301 Depot St. still become a mixed-use, mixed-income development that offers Manchester the housing it desperately needs?

To its credit, the Manchester Select Board wasn’t pushed into a hasty decision on whether a return to Depot Street offices made sense. There was no shortage of opinions on if a move was a good or bad idea; we thought it presented potential advantages worth exploring, if it could be done without breaking the bank. Chief among them: Having the town as a guaranteed tenant might make the rest of the housing development affordable.

But the board wisely waited until it had sufficient facts in hand, and then reached a reasoned decision it could defend on Tuesday night.

Some folks believe studying the possibility of a town office move was a waste of time and money. But as Select Board members Ivan Beattie and Heidi Chamberlain explained, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, one reflecting goals set forth in the town plan. It was made necessary by the looming end of the town’s lease with Manchester Designer Outlets. And as Planning and Zoning Director Janet Hurley noted, that the town owns the land gives it control of what gets built, as well as cost savings.

But it’s never quite so easy. As we learned Tuesday night, there are indications that the base flood height of the Depot Street property could be as much as 4 feet higher than previously understood. A catastrophic flood striking the town offices would put a lot of important government functions and records at risk — including town records dating back to the Colonial era.

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When you put that together with the cost and inconvenience of moving, the dictum that the wisest course of action is sometimes to take no action at all makes sense here.

Now, the town can focus on addressing the current town office building’s lack of energy efficiency and accessibility. It also allows the Depot Street housing proposal to move forward without a contentious issue muddying the waters — and a measure of certainty for would-be developers as they crunch the numbers.

That said, there’s one more complication in the Great Town Hall Saga that didn’t get mentioned at Tuesday night’s meeting: The Community Food Cupboard was among the parties most interested in whether the town offices might move to Depot Street. That’s because such a move would have provided the nonprofit, which has outgrown its current home in the town office building and has spilled out into the courtyard, with much-needed permanent space.

So here’s the next question: If we’re committing to eventually renovating rather than replacing our current town hall, does it make sense for that work to include additional space for the Community Food Cupboard? Or is it better to find the Food Cupboard a different location that would meet its specific space and accessibility needs? Could that new home could also serve as a social service hub for like-minded nonprofit service agencies in our community?

There’s no simple or inexpensive answer to any of those questions — which is why we should start thinking about them now. There are important factors to consider: A new home would have to be accessible to people without transportation. And it would require lease terms that a nonprofit agency such as the Community Food Cupboard could reasonably afford.

Time and time again, this community has shown how leadership, compassion, innovative thinking and effort can solve seemingly intractable problems. Now that we know the town of Manchester intends to hold onto its current home at Jeff Williams Way, let’s make sure that the safety net that shares that home — and keeps our neighbors from going hungry — has the resources it needs to carry out its important work.


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