KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
POWNAL -- With half of the building removed by a backhoe, the sight of brightly colored interior walls, piles of mattresses, and burnt timber frames gave clues to the history of the Bartels Lodge as it was torn down Wednesday after long debate about its future.
"I'm glad it's coming down but it hurts at the same time" said Select Board Chairman Stephen Kauppi, who has been behind efforts to remove the lodge while still holding fond memories of painting its interior as part of a summer job when he was young.
Kauppi said Catamount Environmental Inc. had removed asbestos tiles, grout, and a ceiling by 11:30 a.m. Once the hazardous material was out, TAM Inc. began pulling the building down with a backhoe. By mid-afternoon half the building was rubble and being loaded into large bins to be taken away.
Kauppi said TAM set aside some doors and beams, and if possible those will be used in a future town office. He said the building came down easily, having deteriorated after years of neglect and exposure.
"It's sad to see anything that's been around for a long time go, but we need to move forward and this is a step in the right direction," Kauppi said.
The town has owned the lodge since 2006 when it bought the building for $60,000 after it was damaged by a fire. At the time, officials thought it might serve as new town office, but that option became too expensive to pursue, they said.
After voters approved two seemingly contradictory ballot articles at the March Town Meeting, one calling for the lodge's removal, the other for its sale and preservation, the board received a letter from Montpelier attorney Paul Gillies saying he had been directed by a group of citizens to pursue legal action should the board take action to tear the building down.
Calls for preservation
Calls to Gillies' office were not returned Wednesday, but according to Eve Pearce, who said Gillies has been working for her and others in favor of the lodge's preservation, there is not much use in legal action now that the building has been destroyed. She said in an interview Wednesday she has not yet discussed options with Gillies.
"This is a totally terrible loss to the community," she said. "We lost a rare piece of our history."
The lodge is believed to have been built in the 1880s and before being owned by the town was the property of William Bartels. It was once known as the Mountain View Inn, with a number of artists living there, but for most of its existence it served as a large farmhouse and later an inn.
Nothing was done with the lodge aside from some weather-proofing efforts after the town bought it. A design firm drew up preliminary plans for a new town office but all the options were deemed too expensive by the board in the summer of 2011. After that, debate over the lodge heated up, with Kauppi pushing for its removal.
Pearce said by destroying the lodge the town has disqualified itself for grant funding, a claim Kauppi has denied. Pearce and others had advocated that an option on the building be sold to the Vermont Preservation Trust, a non-profit, which would then sell it to an entity that would revitalize the building.
Since the vote in March there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the building. Kauppi was the subject of an investigation by Vermont State Police into a complaint about him removing boards from the lodge's attic in 2006. Kauppi was asked about it at Town Meeting and he said he took them with the Select Board's permission but later learned proper procedures for granting that permission were not followed.
The state never brought charges against him as the incident exceeded any applicable statute of limitations, according to the State's Attorney's Office. Kauppi called the complaint politically motivated.
The Select Board also attempted to have the lodge removed from the historic district, but the request was denied. Being in such a district does not prevent a building's owner from tearing a building down, but according to Kauppi he did not wish to have town records reflect the board had destroyed a historic structure.
A public meeting was held in late October by the board with the intention of putting out information on the lodge. Most people at that gathering, by a show of hands, were in favor of the building's removal.
At the meeting where the demolition bids were requested, Pearce said she would take Kauppi up on previous offers he had made to let anyone who wanted the building to take it. Kauppi said at the next meeting that his comments had been sarcastic and besides he did not have the board's blessing to make such an offer. He said Wednesday as the building was being torn down he did not feel anyone trying to move it would get far given its poor condition.