Bristol voters back Holley Hall repairs

BRISTOL — Bristol voters by a margin of 133 to 75 voted on Tuesday to approve a bond of up to $750,000 to repair Holley Hall.
The 208 voters who turned out for the special vote represented a little less than 8 percent of the town’s voter checklist. While selectboard Chair Carol Wells said the turnout was disappointing, she was pleased with the outcome of the vote.
“Obviously, I’m excited that it passed,” Wells said. “Now we can move on to the next phase of finalizing the plan and trying to get the best bid possible and start securing other funds to reduce the bond.”
The bond authorizes the town to borrow up to $750,000 to make the building more handicap accessible, fix structural and wiring problems, add insulation and reorganize the basement town offices. Wells said town officials hope that energy efficiency grants, as well as the favorable climate for competitive bids from contractors, will mean the town does not have to borrow the maximum amount for the bond.
The repairs will likely include:
• Extensive renovations to make the building more handicap accessible, including a new ramp entrance, bathroom changes, and a lift to the main hall.
• Insulating and weatherizing the main auditorium and bell tower.
• Renovations to the basement offices to allow more historic windows to be “reopened” after being blocked in previous fixes.
• Installing a more efficient heating system and safer ventilation.
• Building a multipurpose room in the basement offices that could be used for meetings and performances.
Next, the Colchester architect the town is working with will draw up technical documents for contractors to review. Wells said she hopes the project will go out to bid in late February or early March.
The town dove into work on Holley Hall earlier this year, demolishing much of the downstairs offices that were home to the police department and town clerk’s office. Those offices are now located in rented space on South Street.
Wells explained that the demolition was bankrolled by the late Peveril Peake, a Bristol man who was related to the Holley family. When he passed away, he left the town roughly $59,000 to be used for the benefit of Holley Hall.
The selectboard decided to move ahead with the demolition before the bond vote because, as Wells said, “doing nothing wasn’t an option.” High radon levels in the offices meant the space couldn’t be used until the radon problem was fixed.
Plus, Wells said she hoped the demolition would save the town money in the long run. Now, she said, contractors will have a better idea of what to expect when they begin work on the building.
“What you see is what you’ve got,” Wells said. “There aren’t going to be any surprises during construction that would increase the cost. We just felt doing this ahead of time would save money and prevent surprise costs down the road.”
Wells acknowledged that between the Holley Hall project and a more than $1 million stormwater repair on North Street, Bristol town officials will be busy in the coming year. The town in August voted to approve the stormwater project, about half of which will be funded by federal stimulus money.
“When opportunities come along you have to take advantages,” Wells said. “It’s going to be a pretty crazy year, but I think we’re up to the challenge.”
She said she understands that some residents might be concerned about the impact on tax rates of taking out two large bonds at about the same time. While the Holley Hall repairs had been on the selectboard’s radar for some time, Wells said the stimulus money for the stormwater project accelerated the timeline for those repairs, though she thinks the town would have been remiss had officials not leapt at the chance for federal funding.
As for the Holley Hall repairs, Wells said residents will not see the first payment on that bond until 2011. Then, she estimated, a family with a $200,000 home would be expected to contribute $44 in the first year of the bond. Payments will decrease during each year of the 20-year note.

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