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Woodstock planning upgrade to Town Hall

  • Town Hall in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. A plan to renovate Town Hall to make it more accessible and functional was sent out for cost estimates by the Woodstock selectboard. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2021 9:44:03 PM
Modified: 7/27/2021 9:44:11 PM

WOODSTOCK — A plan to renovate Town Hall to make it more accessible, functional and efficient cleared a key hurdle this month, with the Selectboard sending the plan out for cost estimates.

Much of the project would be paid for with private donations and grants, and a capital campaign has already raised $3 million.

That was the original goal for the quiet phase of the campaign, Wendy Spector, who’s leading the fundraising effort, said Monday.

As currently planned, the fundraisers intend to bring in another $2 million in private donations and $500,000 in grants to limit the tax impact on Woodstock residents. The town would seek voter approval at a future Town Meeting to bond for around $1 million. The preliminary cost estimate ranges from $5 million to $7 million.

“We should have an actual budget in a few weeks, at which point we will recalibrate,” Spector said.

If approved and financed, the project would be the first substantial update of the Town Hall since 1986, when the theater was improved and placed under the management of Pentangle Council on the Arts. The town offices, installed on the second floor in 1964, haven’t been updated since.

The Americans with Disabilities Act wasn’t approved until 1990, after the theater improvements.

“The primary focus of this is making the building ADA-compliant,” Selectboard Chair Mary Riley said Tuesday.

That’s especially true of the theater. Woodstock holds annual meetings there, and Pentangle screens films and hosts both local theater productions and visiting performers.

Several years ago, Pentangle looked into doing the work on the theater on its own, Alita Wilson, the nonprofit group’s executive director, said Tuesday. Support was hard to muster, she said, and working with the town to make a wider range of improvements makes sense.

The theater would have fewer and wider seats, taking the audience size from just shy of 400 to a little under 300. The extra space among the seats is required for better access, Wilson said.

The project also would make the stage area, dressing rooms and the rest of the theater accessible to all.

The building opened in 1900 with an assembly hall on the ground floor and a theater upstairs that soon became the town’s chief entertainment venue, according to a history posted by the Woodstock Town Hall Rejuvenation Project, the committee that has been shepherding the plan and raising money.

The building was gutted by a fire in 1927, and when it was rebuilt, town voters approved moving the theater to the ground floor and putting a basketball court on the second floor. The court was replaced with town offices in 1964 as the municipal government grew.

The rejuvenation project would consolidate the town offices, moving the town clerk’s office to the second floor to make room for an elevator shaft where the clerk’s vault is now. The upstairs meeting rooms would be moved to the front of the building and the offices to the back, accessed by a central hallway.

The project also would replace the entire stage area with a new structure. The current 1928 stage house sits on soil that is susceptible to flood damage, so it’s not merely outdated but unstable. If funding permits, the stage wings would be expanded, as well, to furnish space for a wider range of performances, particularly dance and larger theater productions.

Woodstock has a strong theater tradition. Max Comins, a former longtime owner of South Woodstock’s Kedron Valley Inn, has pledged $1.5 million as a lead gift to the project.

“He’s very active in musical theater,” Riley said.

A former assistant to the town manager who now works in the town clerk’s office, Riley said she’s eager to see the project move forward. By moving offices upstairs, the project will open more of the lobby to natural light, she said.

In addition to being more accessible, the building will be more welcoming, Spector said.

“We’re really hoping that this will become more of the ‘people’s house,’ ” she said. It will have more meeting spaces and technology that will make it easier to stage virtual meetings.

The timeline envisioned by the rejuvenation committee would put the project out to bid in March 2023, with construction to begin later that year.

For more information, there are posters up in Town Hall that describe the project and the rejuvenation committee’s website is woodstockthrp.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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