April 2, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON — Details remain a little fuzzy as to why Addison officials built the local town hall on Addison Baptist Church property off the intersection of Routes 17 and 22A more than 130 years ago, but parishioner Erwin Clark has a theory.
“(Townspeople) needed shelter for their horses and buggies,” said Clark, a member of the Addison Baptist Church since the 1930s. “They wanted to use the wagon shed that the church had.”
Cars have since replaced horses and buggies, and Addison shifted its annual meeting from its town hall to its more spacious elementary school around 30 years ago. And while the old town hall building has sat relatively idle, it has not been forgotten. After a discussion at town meeting about what do with the town hall, Addison officials have formed a committee to determine whether the venerable old structure can be resurrected for municipal use.
“I think the town needs to decide whether to assume responsibility for the building,” said John Spencer, chairman of the town hall study committee. “The time has come to sort this out and get it done.”
One of the key things that will need to be sorted out is the deed establishing ownership of the town hall building. The current deed stipulates that the Addison Baptist Church can take over ownership of the town hall building if it ceases to be used for school or municipal purposes, according to Spencer. The lower level of the town hall hosted two public school classrooms until the 1950s, when the Addison Central School was erected.
During the 1970s Addison shifted its town meetings to the school, which had just built an addition. That move essentially ended the town’s broad use of its town hall, though it continues to provide storage and some meeting space for historical society meetings and functions, officials said.
Though structurally sound, the town hall building needs some work to bring it into the 21st century. Spencer said the list of needs includes a new foundation, window repairs, plumbing and a functional heating system.
It remains unclear, however, who exactly should be responsible for the repairs. Since the town has stopped using the building as a meeting hall and school, it could indeed be interpreted as being the church’s property. On the other hand, the town has kept paying insurance on the structure to this day.
Spencer and his colleagues hope to work out an arrangement with the church to clear up any uncertainty that the old town hall still belongs to the town. With that accomplished, the committee could return to local voters — as soon as next year’s town meeting — to ask whether they envision any municipal use for the structure. If the answer is “yes,” Spencer believes the committee could solicit private donations and grants to make the needed renovations to the old town hall.
Some Addison officials believe the building could provide a new home for municipal offices, which are currently cramped in a smaller structure nearby. Spencer and others believe the town hall could tie into a “village center” that would include the Addison Baptist Church, Addison Central School, fire department and town clerk’s office. Some officials have also suggested that a joint septic system and additional parking could better serve these “village center” buildings.
But before any of those ideas can be put into motion, town and church officials have to sort out ownership issues.
“We don’t have clear title to the building,” Spencer said.
Clark, senior deacon at the church, said the congregation has not had a business gathering since Town Meeting Day. He said he expects the town hall building will be a subject of discussion soon.
“It’s kind of up in the air,” Clark said.