Bridgewater Residents Vote to Demolish Village School

  • Members of the Bridgewater Town Advisory Council count paper votes cast by residents at a special meeting Wednesday night, November 30, 2016, to determine whether the Bridgewater Village School will be torn down. The town Selectboard estimates it will cost $100,000 to have the building demolished. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — John Happel

  • Bridgewater, Vt. residents listen to the town Selectboard describe a proposed motion to determine whether the Bridgewater Village School will be torn down. Eighty-four Bridgewater residents turned out to vote on the fate of the school. A 47-37 vote determined that the school will be razed. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Melissa Walker, of Bridgewater, Vt., voices her concerns about immediately voting to tear down the Bridgewater Village School at a town meeting on Wednesday, November 30, 2016. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Bridgewater, Vt., residents voted at a special town meeting Wednesday night, November 30, 2016, to demolish the Bridgewater Village School. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — John Happel

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2016 11:46:41 PM
Modified: 12/1/2016 12:08:36 PM

Bridgewater, Vt. — Residents voted on Wednesday night to demolish the former Bridgewater Village School, a move that likely paves the way for construction of the town’s next fire department.

The 47-37 vote was taken during a special town meeting attended by about 90 people. It gives the Selectboard permission to tear down the 102-year-old school building at an estimated cost of $100,000. But the board isn’t sure how quickly demolition can happen.

“We’re a long way from tearing the building down at this point,” said Selectboard Chairman Norman “Nope” Martin, adding the town will bid out the project.

“The property will remain town property and at some point we’ll vote, or something will happen about a new emergency services building,” he said.

Martin, who owns Martin Excavating, told voters he’ll likely bid for the demolition project. He was one of two sitting board members who approved the special meeting last month.

Both Selectboard member Mary Oldenburg and former member John Timken, who recently resigned from the three-member board, said they support the demolition.

Martin and Oldenburg also cast ballots regarding the demolition on Wednesday. 

The school building cost about $33,000 to maintain last year, including repairs made necessary by complications from a frozen pipe. Bringing the building up to code could cost anywhere between $600,000 to $800,000, according to School Board member Joshua Gregg, who recalled reports from when the building was still in use.

The Village School has a long history in the town. It opened in September 1914, boasting 50 students between the ages of 5 and 18, according to the Bridgewater Historical Society.

That original building was added on to as time went on and the student population increased. In 1948, a renovation added two classrooms and enlarged the basement, which now is used for town meetings, according to the historical society. By the school’s 50th anniversary in 1964, 103 students were enrolled.

The final renovation took place in 1991, when three offices and a multipurpose room were constructed. The school continued hosting classes until last year, when residents voted to create The Prosper Valley School, which now serves both Pomfret and Bridgewater. In its final year, the Village School was home to 37 students, according to the state Agency of Education.

Martin said the town commissioned an independent study of the building after it took ownership of the property when the school closed, and “if you read through it, there’s very little (that is) good about this building.”

The report, said to be around 80 pages, is available at the town office, but some residents said they didn’t know it existed. When asked by residents on Wednesday for it to be published on the town website, officials could only say that they would try.

Residents said they felt the potential demolition was premature, and argued more discussions were needed before taking such a drastic step. They also expressed concerns the Selectboard hadn’t been forthcoming with information.

“The report that I saw was not that the building was irreparable. It said ‘average,’ ” resident Melissa Walker said on Wednesday. “Why would we want to tear down an average building?”

The school building was discussed during a mid-October forum, when the volunteer fire department presented plans for a new fire station possibly using the site. Fire officials told the Selectboard earlier that month they were outgrowing their station, which was built in 1955, according to the Vermont Standard, and proposed a $1.5 million project to build a new complex that includes community meeting space.

About 142 people responded to a survey after the October forum. Two said they wanted to rehab the school, 84 supported the creation of a multipurpose building and 48 wanted to sell it.

Martin told the crowd on Wednesday that the previous hearing was open to the public.

“Your timing stunk,” replied one woman, who went on to complain the board didn’t televise meetings or publish minutes from the forum online.

Those in favor of keeping the school attempted to table the demolition proposal for 60 days to allow more time for community engagement. Others countered that doing so would delay any demolition plans until the spring.

“You’re still pushing the decision down the pike and the thing is still costing us to maintain,” said Timken, the former Selectboard member. “... You’re realistically not going to be doing anything until the fall.”

Ultimately, the delay attempt failed, and voters chose to demolish the building. They also voted to place about $51,000 in a reserve fund for building expenses. That money was left over from last year’s budget to maintain the school, officials said.

Bridgewater voters also elected Lynne Bertram to fill the position left by Timken. She currently serves as chairwoman of the town’s Planning Commission and will sit on the Selectboard until March.

Tim Camerato can be reached at
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