Fairlee — A bond proposal of just under $850,000 to complete renovations to the historic town hall will be presented to the public tonight during an informational hearing.
The 6:30 p.m. hearing in town hall will be followed by a bond hearing on Feb. 6 and a townwide vote on Feb. 14.
“This is a project to get the building completed,” Selectboard Vice Chairman Jay Barrett said.
The project has the support of the board, budget committee and historical society, and if approved, would address “all deferred maintenance,” according to a brochure on the project.
Of the $846,500 bond, 60 percent is slated for maintenance and the remaining 40 percent is to address handicap accessibility issues, the town said in a brochure titled “Fairlee Town Hall, Heart of Our Community.” The town is hoping to receive about $100,000 in federal and state grants, but that is uncertain right now. If voters pass the bond, Barrett said, the Selectboard anticipates work would begin in April and be completed by early fall.
The project would remedy all existing fire safety issues, upgrade heating and ventilation systems, and install an elevator to make the second floor handicap accessible and bring the entire building into compliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
The building’s tin ceiling also would be restored, plaster walls would be repaired, a handicap-accessible bathroom would be constructed and a basement stairwell would be replaced.
The Colonial Revival building, in the heart of Fairlee Village, was completed in 1914 after a fire destroyed the opera house, library and meetinghouse.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Many improvements have been made in the last 20 years using money voters approved from a capital budget, said Barrett, an architect in White River Junction who has done a lot of pro bono work on the building.
Those improvements included a new slate roof, rewiring of the electrical system, new sprinkler and alarm systems and the installation of steel beams to reinforce the second floor.
“We probably have done about $500,000 worth of work,” Barrett said.
The first floor spans 3,600 square feet and the second floor is 3,800 square feet, but the second floor currently is not available for large public gatherings because it is not handicap accessible and the fire escapes are not safe or up to code, Barrett said. The second floor’s seating capacity is 350.
“It is a wonderful space,” Barrett said. “It could be used for performances, exhibits and Town Meeting.”
Other possible uses listed in the brochure include movies, dance classes, weddings, emergency shelters and senior activities.
Barrett and Selectboard Chairman Peter Berger said they have heard questions from some residents as to why a bond is being proposed and whether it would be less expensive to build a new town hall altogether.
Barrett said the town offices must be at least 4,000 square feet and abandoning the town hall for a new, smaller building likely would cost more.
Continuing the work in a piecemeal fashion or putting aside money in the capital budget also would end up costing more, the board members said.
“We feel it will be less expensive in the long term for voters,” Berger said. “If we continue with the method we have done in the past, it would increase the tax rate more and likely be more expensive down the road.”
Another issue has to do with the extent of work being planned with the bond.
“We basically have run out of options to just do specific jobs without disrupting the whole building,” Barrett said. “It is no longer realistic or cost effective to do the work piecemeal.”
According to the brochure, the tax impact of the bond the first year would range from $56 on a $200,000 property to $142 on a property assessed at $500,000.
The amount steadily decreases over the life of the bond to $37 ($200,000 assessed valuation) to $93 ($500,000 valuation) in the final year.
Asked to gauge residents’ feelings about the bond proposal, Barrett said he is hopeful support is there based on the building upgrades that already have been completed.
“Our feeling is the building is well-supported and this will continue,” he said. “We hope people will come out and ask questions and find out more, so if there is misinformation out there, it will go away.” Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.