Pownal town hall project organizer hears feedback

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POWNAL — The new town hall project is moving forward, with feedback provided this week from town employees and the Select Board on the initial design.

Pauline Guntlow, of the Pownal Historical Society, presented the board Thursday with comments from town employees on the proposed building layout. .

"I'm still concerned about it being so open to the public," said board member Marlena Pellon of the planned space. "No security measures. How do individuals get through that door? They just walk in."

State Rep. Nelson Brownell, former chairman of the board who attended the meeting, suggested that entry card access could be instituted for employees.

"That was a big thing," Pellon said. "To make sure that we considered security. It's just the world we live in."

When reached Friday, Guntlow said she thinks she'll add that change to the plans. There's already a planned vestibule entrance, she said, "so that as you go in, it keeps all the cold air from rushing out."

People would go through the main door into the vestibule, and a card access system could be added to a second door into the main space. The door would also be angled so that the town clerk could see who's coming in, Guntlow said.

"They just want to make sure the building is safe," she said.

Guntlow said she doesn't know how much this would cost, but doesn't think it would be "a whole lot."

At a meeting last month, the Select Board unanimously voted to move ahead with a proposal from Messina Builders of Pownal and Guntlow for a new town hall. The project involves moving a circa-1840s schoolhouse on North Pownal Road to nearby town-owned property on Center Street, adjacent the current town offices.

Modular construction would be used for the town's core offices, and the attached schoolhouse would be used for Select Board meetings and a Pownal History Center.The proposal was one of five responses the town received to a requests for proposals prior to a Feb. 11 deadline. The town has been trying to replace its cramped, aging town hall for more than 20 years.

The only other changes planned to the design are to make the kitchen "a touch smaller" and a storage/office room a little larger, Guntlow said. Both are a result of the Select Board's feedback Thursday.

There's no real expected change to the cost of the project from those adjustments, Guntlow said.

"It's none, actually," she said. "That's the cool part of modular building. You come up with a plan, and it's basically the square footage and the amount of detail and so forth."

Next, Guntlow said, she'll make sure cable jacks are in the right place in the design, and then send the drawings with the changes to the modular company in New Hampshire. The company will produce the final drawings.

"It's streamlined but adequate for the 50 years-type town hall that we're building," Guntlow said. "It's the least expensive but really well-built way of doing this. And besides that, with modular construction, it's a much quicker turnaround."

At a public meeting in October, Guntlow presented the Historical Society's initial proposal for a new town hall to the public. After that, but before the bidding process, she reduced the square footage of the building in the plans.

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"To keep the costs down," Guntlow said. "Certainly, if we can accomplish what we need to accomplish for less square footage, that's a good thing."

When she first did the designs, she said, she had "no specs to go on whatsoever."

"I was just kind of winging it, thinking about what they might need," she said.

Permitting process next

Guntlow said she will begin dealing with the applicable permitting once she gets the plan in hand.

In talking with town employees, Guntlow said, they looked at space needs for particular positions.

"How many file cabinets, the size of the desks," she said. "Whatever was involved in each of their specific tasks."

Guntlow said she met with at least four town employees on Monday and Tuesday last week.

"The town staff has intimate knowledge on what they do and with that knowledge, know exactly how they would align the offices, desks — everything that would promote a better flow through the building for citizens to come in and conduct business," said Town Administrator Michael Walker.

Walker said he will ask the town's website master to activate a link to information on the project on the town's website.

"There will be a website, and you click on that link, and you see all the diagrams, drawings and artist renditions of what the town hall will look like," he said.

Changes will be added as needed, he said.

"At some point, there will be more actual narrative, describing what's going on," Walker said. "A key factor with this is to make sure there's a constant communication with citizens. The more communication we have with citizens on what they're looking for, the better."

The town plans to have community meetings on the project as it progresses.

"When there's something tangible that we can hold up and say, `this is pretty darn close to what it's going to look like,'" Walker said.

Besides design, the project has to go through code review by the state fire marshal and the permitting process through the zoning administrator. It must also go through the town's Development Review Board and project review by the state, Walker said.

"It's all part of the process," he 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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