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Aldermen hike sprinkler payments

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen agreed on Jan. 10 to increase the city’s financial contribution toward installing sprinklers in City Hall and the Vergennes Opera House to $35,000.
The increased contribution for the delayed project is up from an earlier estimated city share of $20,000 to $22,000.
Theater and city officials learned in early 2010 that the original budget of about $65,000 was not enough because a $20,000 pump was needed to push water up to the theater balcony, and that major electrical upgrades — possibly costing another $10,000 — were needed to make the pump work.
Opera House Director Eileen Corcoran said theater officials believe they and contractors have solved what was a complicated issue of how to run three-phase power to the pump, and work should begin fairly soon.
“We don’t have a specific timetable for completion just yet, but it should be by this spring,” Corcoran said. “Because of how (and) where the building is situated and the pump location within the building, determining the power line situation has not been simple. But I believe we have it figured out now.”
Aldermen last week backed the higher city share at the recommendation of Mayor Michael Daniels and City Manager Mel Hawley.
Hawley noted in an email to Friends of the Vergennes Opera House (FVOH) President Allison Rimmer and Corcoran that he and Daniels concluded that the pump would also protect parts of City Hall as well as the balcony, thus making it fair for the city to pay more.
“The fire pump is necessary to protect the balcony, the attic, and of course the roof,” Hawley wrote. “There is an argument that the attic and roof are not part of the leased premises. I think it is fair to say that the Mayor and I are willing to make a recommendation to the City Council approving additional dollars from the Water Tower Fund for this purpose.”
FVOH leases the entry and second story of City Hall to operate the theater. The Water Tower Fund is supported by lease payments from cell phone companies who broadcast signals from the water town next to City Hall, and the funds aldermen committed last week will not come directly from taxpayers. The Water Tower Fund current stands at about $44,500, according to Hawley.
Aldermen have based their contribution to the project on the proportion of the building protected by the sprinklers.
The theater needed to install sprinklers because of a recent change in state law that required sprinklers for any space that hosted parties of 100 people or more at which alcohol is served.
Renting out the theater to such gatherings has been an important part of the revenue stream for the Vergennes Opera House, which has hosted those parties under a waiver system since the law was passed. Hawley said it is uncertain how much longer state officials would continue to grant waivers.
Hawley said the project is about 90 percent complete, with the pump and related electrical work the major missing element.
Theater officials, who told aldermen in December fundraising has been a challenge in the down economy, are happy with the council’s decision.
“We would love to wrap up the project as soon as possible and are doing anything and everything we can to make this happen,” Corcoran said. “We greatly appreciate the city council’s decision to help complete the funding so that we can best protect this important city asset.”
Although the city is spending more for sprinklers, Hawley said the project would also save Vergennes some money. Insurance policies for municipal buildings typically offer 20 percent discounts for sprinkler installation, and that would translate to a reduction of about $800 a year.
“This project is about protecting this building,” Hawley said, “but there are also some savings in the premiums.”  
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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