Panton finds answer for town cupola

PANTON — Panton Town Hall’s cupola will soon be removed to allow badly needed new roofing to be installed on the historic building, but a major donation has offered more hope that the cupola can be eventually put back in place.
Panton selectmen last Tuesday accepted not only a $35,000 bid from the McKernon Group to remove the cupola and repair the leaky roof on the 1857 structure, but also a $10,000 anonymous gift toward the cupola’s restoration and hoped-for return to its town hall perch.
Selectboard chairman John Viskup described the donation from an unidentified local resident as “excellent” news. The $10,000 will not fund the entire cost of restoring the cupola and returning it to its historic home, but Viskup said it is a strong start that would create momentum for the project.
“That was very nice, very unexpected,” Viskup said. “And it might be enough money to get people interested in placing the cupola back on.”
Once the cupola is on the ground behind Panton Town Hall, Viskup also said the needed restoration work will be simpler. That easier access should also pave the way for not only more financial gifts, but also in-kind donations of labor and materials.
“It’s not way up in the air, and not impossible to work on,” he said. “It’s a nice project.”
Selectmen believe by preserving the option of replacing the cupola that Panton will remain eligible for grants that could support the town’s long-term goal of renovating the building into a visitor and community center with fully functional rest rooms and a kitchen.
But on Sept. 7, only about a dozen Panton residents voted at a special meeting not to spend $70,000 to fix both the roof and cupola in place, rather than about $32,000 to remove the cupola and fix the roof.
Town officials and residents alike agree the roofing must be repaired soon to prevent structural damage to Panton Town Hall, which hosts town meetings upstairs and the town clerk’s offices in the basement. But selectmen after the Sept. 7 meeting wrestled with the issue of what to do with the cupola considering the poor turnout.
Then, during Panton’s Sept. 10 celebration of the town’s 250th anniversary, resident Bill Luginbuhl suggested removing the cupola in one piece, shrink-wrapping it, and storing it on blocks behind town hall. Officials and residents alike backed the plan, which then got the surprising boost with the recent donation.
“It’s so nice and so generous,” Viskup said. “I never expected this.”
Meanwhile, the other part of the project should begin soon. Viskup said on Thursday that McKernon should get all but cosmetic work done this fall on the roof.
Selectmen have $26,000 in a line item set aside for town hall repair, and Viskup said they will tap another $15,000 line item for the remaining $9,000.
Those funds were to be dedicated to a long-range study of Town Hall renovation, but Viskup said selectmen believe the short-term need trumps that longer-term goal.
They had planned to tap those funds for about $6,000 while working around the cupola, and now will dig $3,000 deeper to pay for its removal.
“We feel we can borrow it from there,” Viskup said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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