Pownal Select Board votes 'yes' on town hall ballot article

POWNAL — After weeks of discussion, the Select Board has approved a ballot article for a new town hall.

In a 3-2 vote Thursday night, the board approved an article for the November election, asking to town to vote yes or no for the board to support the continued effort by the town's historical society to use a circa-1840s old school house in town and modular construction for a new town office, "in an amount not to exceed $750,000," according to a copy of the ballot question.

Board members Jenny Dewar and Bob Jarvis voted in favor, along with Nelson Brownell, chairman of the board.

Jason Olansky, vice chairman of the board, and Ron Bisson voted against.

Brownell emphasized that a "yes" vote does not authorize any borrowing — that would come later, with a bond vote.

"If the town approves the ballot, the town will start the work necessary to raise those funds," he said. "In that process, we'll have a bond vote and a number of hearings."

The ballot article concerns a proposal by the Pownal Historical Society to move an old schoolhouse from its current location on North Pownal Road to town-owned property on Center Street, to be attached to new, modular town offices.

This would replace the town's cramped, aging town hall.

The historical society had garnered more than enough signatures on a petition for a ballot article about their plan, but they withdrew their petition last month with the consent of the board after confusion arose about its wording.

The historical society had presented a ballot article to the Select Board in August that included wording about debt authorization, which was not part of their initial petition. By law, the board wouldn't have been allowed to put that on the ballot, as it was different than what people had asked for in signing the petition, Brownell previously told the Banner.

At the meeting, Dewar asked if the new ballot article would preclude other options for a town hall.

Earlier that same meeting, the Select Board was notified of a letter from John Armstrong III, who represents Armstrong Inc., the owners of the building at 7757 Route 7, recommending the property for a town hall.

The over-15,000 square foot building is the site of the former Hillside House Furniture Store, near Stewart's Shops.

The owners are interested in selling the property, and as they are not under contract with a realtor, they can offer the property at deep discount, according the to letter.

Brownell said that other options can be brought forward, too.

"We're committed to support this project because the people want us to support it," he said. "Nothing precludes talking about other options."

Rose-Marie Pelletier, who attended the meeting, said it's incumbent on the Select Board to get information out, if there are other options.

Ron Bisson, a member of the board, agreed.

In a process like this, a lot of options are brought up, Brownell said.

"I have no idea what will happen here," he said. "Our duty is to ask the public what they think."

Pelletier said that people voting need to know about their options — so they don't think when they vote that this ballot question is the only option available, if that's not the case.

"I think we have an obligation to provide information," Olansky said at the meeting.

When reached Friday, Olansky said that he thinks other options could possibly be pursued for the town hall — not that the ballot article is necessarily a bad idea.

"[It] seems like it's not real clear what we want to do," he said.

At the meeting, Bisson brought up the fact that Pownal now has a town administrator, Michael Walker, who can research and report back to the board on any other options that come up.

"That's what I want to hear," Pelletier said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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