old schoolhouse

This old schoolhouse is slated to be moved to the site of a proposed new town office building on Center Street in Pownal. The Select Board will provide an update Thursday on the project, which will likely require going back to voters for additional bond funding.

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POWNAL — Town officials will update the public Thursday on progress for the new town office project, which is expected to show cost increases possibly leading to a new town meeting bond vote.

The special board meeting — a videoconference that will allow time for public comment — is set for 6:30 p.m.

Information on how to participate via Zoom or by phone is posted with the meeting agenda on the Pownal website.

Following a board executive session in early November, board member and Zoning Administrator Michael Gardner read a statement, which was later posted.

“After evaluation of the numbers for the Town Hall project, we have found that we have increases,” Gardner stated. “Many of these increases are due to delays because of COVID, and there are also incidentals that were out of our control. The town has been working on the construction permits with the state, and that is the last permit we are waiting for.”

He added, “We realize that we need to bring the project back to the voters to increase the bond amount.”

INITIAL BOND VOTEIn 2019, town voters in approved a project costing up to $775,000. The plan involves moving a nearby schoolhouse building on North Pownal Road to town-owned property on Center Street, adjacent to the current town offices.

Modular construction would be used for the town’s core offices, and the attached schoolhouse, which dates to the early 1800s, is planned for Select Board meetings and for a Pownal History Center.

Voters approved a bond of up to $600,000. Approximately $175,000 set aside over the years in a town office building fund also is proposed for the work.

The proposal voted on included creating a structure near the current town offices on Center Street with a 3,678-square-foot main floor and a 1,063-square-foot space for a town history center and storage area.

The plan was put forth by Messina Builders of Pownal and Pauline Guntlow of the Pownal Historical Society, which sought to preserve the old schoolhouse.

The town has been trying to replace the current cramped, aging town hall for more than 20 years. That 1,500-square-foot building is just north of the proposed building site, the location of the former Bartels Lodge.

The town purchased the former Bartels Lodge property for $60,000 in 2005, with the need for a new town hall in mind. The old inn was razed in 2012, however, following a fire and continued deterioration while it was vacant.

PRESENTATION PLANNEDThe board has put its liaison, Rebecca Dragon, in charge of finalizing the project costs involved, itemizing the projected increases and providing a presentation during the special meeting.

“At the meeting on [Dec. 3], I will have a comprehensive report/presentation regarding all of the ‘numbers’ on the project, and documenting progress made to date,” Dragon said in an email.

In a Nov. 12 report to the board, Dragon wrote, “As you know, I have been digging into and organizing the numbers for our town hall project with the help of [Administrative Assistant Linda Sciarappa] and [Transfer Station Supervisor] Tom Shuey. We have discovered enough increases (many due to delays from COVID, etc.) that it is clear we need to bring the bond amount back to the voters.”

She added then that the meeting originally scheduled for Nov. 19 would be moved back to Dec. 3, saying “it is clear that isn’t enough time for me and those helping to be able to get true and accurate numbers.”

The board also had approved “our concept for a new ‘project management team’ for this project,” Dragon said.

Team members include herself, Sciarappa, Gardner, Shuey, and proposed contractor Messina Builders, which Dragon said is “helping us get estimates from preferred venders that they have a relationship with.”

PROPOSALS SOUGHTAfter the board issued a request for proposals in early 2019, the Messina Builders/Pauline Guntlow proposal was one of five responses the town received.

The RFP had a cost ceiling of $750,000 and only the Messina Builders/Guntlow plan proposed a project costing less than that figure.

The board voted in June 2019 to move ahead with that proposal, and a $600,000 bond supporting the project was approved by voters that fall.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com.


Jim Therrien reports for the three NENI newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield (Mass.) Republican and the former North Adams Transcript.


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