Letter: About the Sunderland Town Hall blueprints
Just before Christmas I was removed as chair of the Sunderland Selectboard and at the last selectboard meeting I was removed as Emergency Management Director. The reason cited was a letter in the newspapers that I had written expressing my view that the Sunderland selectboard should do more in connecting with the town’s residents around certain issues that come up in town government. I mentioned three specifically: the blueprints for the new town hall, the flood plain regulations and the rebuilding of the Kelley Stand Road. I stand by my original letter, regardless if other members on the board feel I was attacking different committees in town government and regardless if other towns in Vermont have the same problem of connecting with their residents. Certain issues that come before the selectboard demand more participation with town residents before a selectboard vote is held. I believe the selectboard has the responsibility to take this extra effort.
After my letter to the editor I talked with the Manchester Journal about increased coverage around selectboard meetings and town issues. That has happened as well as the selectboard sending out a package on the town hall project to town residents in the mail.
It is my belief that my letter in the newspaper had nothing to do with being removed as chair of the selectboard and the job of Emergency Management Director, I believe it is because I do not support the blueprints presented by the rest of the selectboard for the new town hall. I was vocal about the way they were put out for public comment and I was vocal during the blueprint presentation to the selectboard. Evidently it was not meant to be a comment period on the blueprints, particularly negative comments. I was rebuked at a later meeting for making change suggestions to the architect about the prints. These were suggestions that came from residents in town, they were not my own. It was said I was being disrespectful and unprofessional to the architect. The selectboard said they wanted a team player thus I could not remain as chair. The board should decide who they want as chair but government isn’t some sports game with teams, democracy gets messy at times with disagreement and conflict often propelling issues from the shadows into the public eye.
I do not support the blueprints for the new town offices. As a resident, I can’t understand why we need a 61-person room when that is insufficient space to hold a town meeting; a one day a year meeting. We can hold voting there but again, a one-day-a-year event. Most towns in our area use a different facility for these special meetings, they don’t use the town hall for larger events. I would think this room increases the size needed for the septic field and the need for a much larger parking lot, again more money.
This building does not reflect New England architecture. Why? Can’t more be done externally to make this building look like it’s the town hall of a 200 year old Vermont community? As a professional building contractor, working in the building industry for 42 years with numerous projects alongside architects, I just don’t think this building is what it could be. I offered to take the architect’s estimation for building cost to local trades’ people to see if we were in a realistic range: electrical, plumbing, materials estimator and paving company. This idea was rejected. Would anyone building their own home do less? Why were areas from heating system, air conditioning, roof, siding and others decided by the selectboard without any expert advice? After hearing at one meeting: "I like this, let’s do it" and having it voted YES, I had to step completely out of lending any support for this project.
This building project was put on a "fast track." My guess is that the old attitude; "we have been trying to build the town hall for too many years and it’s time to just get this moved through." Instead we should have made a concerted effort to present the blueprints to the public, to the trades’ people for advice, to engage the residents in the way the building will look and work. The plan is to finance this with a municipal bond which would increase taxes. Once the bond has been voted in the building cost seems to be set.
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