Addison considers the future of its town hall

ADDISON — The Addison selectboard has set a Sept. 16 public informational meeting on the future of the now vacant former Addison Town Hall on Route 22A, and that gathering will also focus on a septic system that could serve not only that building, but also the Addison Community Baptist Church and the town’s nearby fire station and clerk’s office.
John Spencer, the head of the committee the selectboard appointed to study the town hall question, said a central issue at  the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on that Monday at the Addison Central School, will be whether the town should borrow about $50,000 from the state to pursue further that communal septic system.
The system is proposed for land west of the central school. The cost for construction, engineering, permitting and purchase of an easement for the site is estimated at $675,000, but Spencer is optimistic the state will pick up 35 percent of the tab, or $236,000, by awarding Addison a Pollution Abatement Grant.
The $50,000, which would be included in that figure if the system is built, would pay for a curtain drain above the site and testing to confirm what engineers concluded in 2009 — that the site is adequate to meet all the properties’ needs.
On Sept. 16, Spencer and town selectboard members will seek residents’ support for the $50,000 loan — and explain the related issues of septic system needs, town hall ownership, and the future of Addison’s tiny town clerk’s office, which could someday be replaced by the now empty, roughly 140-year-old town hall.
“Here are the topics we want to talk about,” Spencer said. “Do we want to take the town hall back? Do we want to put a town clerk’s office in it? Do we want to continue the sewer plan?”
Ownership of the former town hall reverted to the church about four decades ago, when Addison essentially abandoned a structure that has never been served by a septic system or running water. Spencer said the addition of the gym/auditorium to the nearby central school provided meeting space the town used instead.
Meanwhile, septic systems for Addison’s fire station, also nearby on the north side of Route 22A, and for the church are questionable at best, Spencer said.
And he said many believe the town clerk’s office, across the parking lot from the church and the former town hall, cannot meet the town’s needs for much longer.
“It is very crowded. There is no meeting space at all … The DRB (development review board, of which Spencer serves as chairman) meets in the school and sits in the arts room and sits in little kids’ chairs. Planning commission meetings, same problem,” Spencer said. “And the vault is full. The listers have a little square, a little corner in there, and that’s almost a full-time job. It’s splitting at the seams.”
When the selectboard formed the town hall committee in 2007, it soon found itself involved in septic issues. Town and church officials several years ago reached a tentative deal that the church would return the former town hall to Addison if the town could provide a septic solution that would also serve the church.
“We ran into this sewage thing,” Spencer said. “The church needs something to give up the rights to the building and the land, and what they wanted was sewage. And we needed sewage for the hall. And we discovered we needed sewage for the fire department, which is inadequate, too. That turned our whole committee from building restoration into a sewage committee.”
In 2009, Addison’s town hall committee obtained a $10,000 grant from the Agency of Natural Resources to help fund a $14,000 sewer feasibility study. Voters at Addison’s 2009 town meeting also approved spending $10,000 to study the town hall question, and the remaining $4,000 came from those funds.
The study identified the parcel west of ACS as the best, and came up with a design that Jon Ashley of Phelps Engineering unveiled at a public meeting at the school in February 2010.
Ashley said then Phelps engineers are optimistic the capacity is there for town and church purposes, plus also a couple of other properties. Spencer said the curtain drain and monitoring pits that the $50,000 would fund are needed to confirm their opinion.
Their recommended design called for each property to have its own septic tank, and then share a main flow pipe down to the site, which would serve as a leach field. Ashley said at the meeting this system would be relatively cheap and easy to maintain compared to other design alternatives.
Because the work has to be done in the spring, Spencer hopes residents and selectboard members will support the project this fall, allowing the necessary curtain drain and monitoring wells to be installed before then.
“We don’t want to let another year go by,” he said.
Meanwhile, the town hall committee has been working on its supposed main mission, the building itself. The committee has a $1 million plan for a full renovation, one that Spencer again said he believes would be more affordable than the list price because of the several grant programs for which the project would be eligible.
“We have not spent any time trying to raise any grants or any money for the restoration of town hall … We don’t own it. We can’t,” Spencer said. “The bar right now is the sewer project … Once that goes through, then we can go forward and try to raise money for the town hall.”
Addison Town Hall is not beyond saving, he said, and residents are invited to see for themselves on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m., when the committee will hold an open house there.
“The building is in very good shape. It looks bad from the outside, but we’ve had people go all over it,” Spencer said. “The structure is sound, nice and square.”
Plans call for a new foundation with a basement that could house the town listers’ office and a meeting room, and putting the clerk’s office on the main floor with a meeting room that could hold about 20. The top floor, which has a stage, could provide a meeting room for as many as 190.
As well as grants, Spencer said phasing in work could also soften the financial impact to Addison residents.
“The top floor doesn’t have to be finished right away. Even the cellar doesn’t have to be finished right away. You can stage it,” he said.
Whether or not residents ultimately choose to use Addison’s former town hall to replace the town clerk’s office, Spencer said he thinks they should support the effort to solve town buildings’ septic problems and to return the historic building to town ownership.
“The sewer project stands on its own even without the town hall. The town clerk’s office needs to be replaced, period, whether it’s in the town hall, or not in the town hall,” Spencer said. “So you’re going to have to have sewage for that.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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