Windsor County Voters Approve Courthouse Renovations
Windsor County Deputy Clerk Alison Waters yesterday staples groups of the 9,393 ballots cast around Windsor County on a $2 million renovation proposal to the Windsor County Courthouse. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor County Assistant Judge Jack Anderson waits for the results of a vote on the courthouse renovation in Woodstock yesterday. It was four-and-a-half hours after the vote count began that the results were presented to Anderson and his fellow judges. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
After hours of counting and tabulating, Windsor County Clerk Susan Motschman, center, and Deputy Clerk Alison Waters turn over the results of a vote on renovation of the county courthouse to Judge Harold Eaton Jr., second from right and Assistant Judges David Singer and Jack Anderson in Woodstock yesterday. The $2 million project was passed with 59 percent of the vote. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — A $2 million plan to renovate the aging Windsor County Courthouse was approved by residents who voted at Town Meetings around the county on Tuesday.
The proposal was on the ballot in all 24 of the county’s towns, and votes were tallied yesterday afternoon. It passed 5,412 to 3,828.
“These are tough economic times, they really are,” said David Singer, one of the two assistant judges who worked to get the proposal on ballots county-wide. “Fortunately, (due to) the fact that it was for all of us Vermonters, it prevailed.”
The project will add one-fourth of a penny per $100 of assessed value to county residents’ property tax bills. On average, Windsor County residents will see a tax increase of about $5. It will take 10 years to pay off the money borrowed for the project.
Passage came after a long campaign, during which Singer and Assistant Judge Jack Anderson visited every town in the county to give presentations. Several town officials expressed skepticism about the projects prospects prior to the vote, saying their constituencies were more focused on the issues in their own towns.
And at least voters yesterday seemed to agree.
“The only time I see that courthouse is when I’m there to get gasoline,” said John Leavitt, of North Pomfret, during a short break at Town Meeting on Tuesday. Leavitt said he was aware of the proposal, but the $2 million price tag didn’t sit well with him. Ultimately, he voted against the article.
For some who live in Woodstock, however, the renovation project hit much closer to home.
“It’s got to be done,” said Carol Wood, a Woodstock lister, at Town Meeting on Saturday. “All public buildings have to be handicap accessible.”
The courthouse, which has been in continuous use since 1855, is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a problem which the renovations are intended to fix.
Plans show the installation of a back entrance — the lone interest in front requires going up several stairs — that visitors could use to enter the building at ground level.
From there, a newly installed elevator would take them to the second floor, which is where the courtroom is.
The courthouse’s nine bathrooms, which currently are not up to code, will be renovated and made handicapped-accessible.
Also, a new holding cell will allow the court, which holds civil cases, to occasionally hold criminal trials.
The courtroom itself, with its locally made, pre-Civil War benches, will not be altered, save for the installation of a working air conditioning system.
During summer trials, the courthouse’s window units have to be turned off due to noise, so a series of floor fans cycle hot air around the room, Anderson said recently.
The elevator will be placed within a 1,250-square-foot addition on the back of the building, which will also allow judges and juries to, for the first time, leave the courtroom without walking through the public seating areas.
“It should be restored. It’s part of the heritage of the community,” Woodstock resident Bill McDonald, a dentist whose practices in Rutland, said at Town Meeting. “I don’t mind paying some more taxes on that.”
Results for individual towns were not available, as the votes are co-mingled by law, Singer said.
In 1998, voters strongly rejected a $4.7 million proposal that included a wider array of renovations, including an addition about six times the size of the one proposed this time around.
The next step, Singer said, is to begin the process of moving the court’s current operations to the Probate Court building at 62 Pleasant St., which is about a half-mile away.
The process should be completed by late summer.
And then the actual work begins.
“The first shovel should go in the ground around the Labor Day holiday,” Singer said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248. Staff writer Aimee Caruso contributed to this report.