Vergennes foregoes city hall courtyard plan

VERGENNES — After discussions over the past few months, the Vergennes City Council and the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House have agreed not to do a complete makeover of the front of Vergennes City Hall into a courtyard, a project that could have also included a bulbout.
City officials and the theater group could still cooperate on upgrading the theater’s standing marquee while the city focuses on fixing the sidewalk.
City Manager Mel Hawley said aldermen at their Feb. 24 meeting agreed to apply for a $15,000 Downtown Transportation Fund grant that would fund half the cost of the sidewalk project.
That project would include new cement and granite curbing for a sidewalk that Hawley said is now in “a state of disrepair.” The city would use its Water Tower Fund to provide its $15,000 share of the $30,000 project.
Meanwhile, the Vergennes Opera House marquee is being renovated. According to Friends of the Vergennes Opera House (FVOH) President Gerianne Smart, that work should be completed this spring, after which the marquee will be placed on a new base.
Hawley and Smart hope that marquee work can include lighting. Hawley said the lighting is now lacking in front of city hall, and using the marquee to solve the problem might work, even if it were at the city’s expense.
Aldermen did not make the decision last week to use city funds to help pay for lights to be installed in the marquee, but Hawley said he personally “certainly would support” that concept.
An early February email from Smart to FVOH member said the courtyard committee appointed by Mayor Bill Benton also supported city funding for lights in the marquee.
What will not happen is the proposed brick courtyard between the sidewalk and city hall’s front steps.
Hawley said city officials learned that the Downtown Transportation Fund officials do not consider the brick courtyard eligible for grants, and aldermen made final last week a decision not to fund it.
“There is no so-called courtyard project,” Hawley said. “The project has been reduced to the sidewalk in front of city hall and granite curbing.”
In her early February email, Smart told FVOH members she agreed with that impending decision because fundraising for the project would be too much to ask for the theater organization without the grant support.
Rather, Smart said FVOH should continue to focus on re-energizing the organization and moving its finances further into the black.
“The FVOH will not be putting energy into a brick-selling campaign that may not have 100 percent support and therefore we can concentrate on what we are doing best,” Smart wrote.
Smart also wrote that she is happy about how well the theater group and city officials are working together.
“The courtyard improvements will happen via cooperation and teamwork between the FVOH and City Hall in a fiscally responsible way,” she wrote, adding, “The process, though lengthy and ‘energetic,’ worked and worked really well.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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