Thursday October 4, 2012

Try a different perspective on Bartels Lodge

I have been following the on-going arguments both political and historical for what the town of Pownal should do in regard to destroying the Bartels Lodge for a new Town Hall, and I decided that it was time to share my ideas for a very different solution

Pownal could consider offering to buy the old Storey Communications building from the Oak Hill Children’s Center for a new Town Hall. With the sale of the Storey building, Oak Hill could build a structure specifically for a daycare center. A great location would be one of the empty lots behind Pownal Elementary School, if available, thus maintaining the convenient location for parents with children in both schools.

The Storey building has never been great for the day care because the floor plan consists of offices and business meeting spaces. When I was a member of the board for Oak Hill, it was struggling with the expenses for this oversized and under-utilized building. The location in front of our elementary school certainly made it a sensible location for the families using it, but the expenses of a half-used building have made it difficult to maintain. I imagine that this circumstance hasn’t changed much in the years since I served on the board.

There are several good reasons to consider asking the Children’s Center to work with the town to relocate with a better, smaller facility and to utilize the Storey building for a Town Hall.

First and foremost is because the building was built as an office building not a school. Next, the current size of our town government wouldn’t require renovation of the upstairs by adding an elevator at this time (as a selectman told me). There is at least twice the space on the first floor than the office staff is using at the current location on Center Street. And later on, when the town inevitably has grown, the Storey building has the entire upstairs available to expand into.

And possibly most importantly, this would immediately address the problem of parking on Center Street. I have yet to hear anyone’s arguments include that particular problem, and it’s a problem that will only increase with the growth of Pownal. As I lived on Center Street for two years and had my business there from 1994-2001, I know firsthand. I, myself, had to go before the board to move onto Center Street in 1994, and the amount of traffic I might bring was the reason. At the Storey building location, the parking area will always be adequate, and for evening meetings, the adjacent school parking lot would be available.

Lastly, by allowing the local artists and Historic Preservation community (in conjunction with the Bennington Museum) to pursue the historical restoration of Bartels Lodge, we have the chance to make an economic niche for Pownal. What a great community project it would be to find and display this old art painted by visiting artists up to a century ago. And then bring that idea forward into the current century and reinstitute the goal of bringing artists to Pownal for their painting vacations (and pottery, weaving, photography or whatever else our local, talented artists can teach and entice visitors with).

Additionally, our Historical Society might find a home within the saved Bartels Lodge, along with the exhibits of art both current and past. Then there is the possibility of using the current Town Hall as an archive location for historic town records. With all of these components in place, Center Street would truly be the historic center of our town as it should be and we would not be overburdening it in the coming years with the growing needs of our town government.

Now, since there are currently a number of Pownal artists in the group trying to save Bartels Lodge, it seems to me that they would have a vested interest in bringing artists back to Pownal, perhaps in the spirit of years ago with workshops, week-long events and art shows. And I am sure the local motel wouldn’t mind having a reason for people to actually stay in Pownal and for more than one night.

I think these ideas cover the main issues of the controversy and may even offer a solution financially for our much needed Children’s Center. And it offers an idea for an economic shot-in-the arm through the business of art focus, too.

DEBRA DEMING WALSH

Pownal