Pownal residents concerned over proposed town hall

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POWNAL — Residents who attended an informational meeting on Thursday agreed a new town office space is needed — but not about the location or the cost of a proposed new building.

Over 70 residents attended the meeting held by the Selectboard and the Town Office Committee. Several residents questioned the need for a nearly 6,000-square-foot building expected to cost a little over $1 million and suggested that the town renovate an existing building.

"We need a new town hall," resident Jim Kocsis said during the meeting at the elementary school. "I'm not sure if this is the size of a building that we need for a small town."

The meeting, which officials said would be the first of many to come in the next several months, turned heated at times. Selectboard and TOC members reminded residents that all plans are preliminary and the meeting was to give information to and collect input from the public.

Officials maintain the town has outgrown its offices at 467 Center St. In the current building, several departments are housed in one room that also serves as the building's only meeting space, there are concerns over ADA compliance and the building is not energy efficient.

The Town Office Committee was established in 1993 and went through periods of inactivity.

Now on the table is a proposed 5,962-square-foot building, designed by LineSync Architecture of Wilmington. It would be at the end of Center Street adjacent to the Pownal Center Community Church on the former site of the Bartels Lodge.

The estimated cost of $1,035,034 would be funded by a 25-year bond of $900,000 and $135,034 from the Municipal Office Fund. It would add an additional $22.79 in taxes on a $100,000 property.

Numerous sites were considered over the years. The town explored renovating the Bartels Lodge — which was demolished in 2012 — and using space in the American Legion Post 90 building on Route 7. But all the while, there were concerns that renovating a space could cost more than new construction, while some residents called for reusing an existing building. Both those long-standing arguments were raised again this week.

Jimmy Winchester said the town should follow suit with the Bennington County Sheriff Department and reuse an existing building like the legion.

One point of contention was the new building's 1,600-square-foot meeting room. Residents pointed to other spaces meetings could be held, such as the elementary school, fire department and library.

"Most of the people here are ages 62 or above. We're on fixed incomes," said resident Linda Cardimino, who was in support of reusing a building.

Cardimino described what she said was years of town officials misspending money, making several jabs at Selectboard Vice Chairman Nelson Brownell and at one point referring to Pownal as "the armpit of the Earth."

Other concerns residents had was the number of parking spaces and the cost of maintaining the new building.

TOC member Steven Kauppi defended the plans and said it would be a building that the town could be proud of.

Fellow member Donna Ianni said that costs from a renovation add up quickly and the final product may still have issues.

"The longer we wait, the more it will cost," she said.

The meeting was filmed by Catamount Access Television.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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