Work coming soon to Vergennes City Hall

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen at their Tuesday meeting last week reached a consensus on tweaks to the city hall’s floor plan and asked City Manager Mel Hawley to start getting estimates, with work to begin as soon as January.
The first focus, said aldermen and Hawley, will be to convert into a meeting room the largest of the three rooms left vacant by the police force’s recent move.
That room would be large enough to accommodate the city council’s regular twice-monthly meetings. The drawing supplied by Vergennes architectural designer Christopher Pettibon shows a table with 10 chairs with another 19 chairs along the walls.
“My plan is to get the council room back in operation,” Hawley said.
In recent years, aldermen have met in the basement of the city’s Green Street fire department, as they did on Nov. 25. They have held some larger meetings in the Vergennes Opera House upstairs in city hall.
What served as the police department’s holding cell is now being used by the opera house as a ticket office, but only during events and, according to October minutes, without a formal change in the theater’s lease.
Mayor Bill Benton told aldermen last week it was his understanding that arrangement was working well, although Friends of the Vergennes Opera House President Gerianne Smart said in October the theater might like permanent use of the vacant police chief’s office as well as the smaller ticket office. 
“We’ve also heard from some people working there that the ticket office is working fine,” Benton said. “They might not need the other space.”
Other elements of the plan include:
•  Removing the wall that now separates the clerk’s office from the hallway between that office and the former police station. Officials said doing so would allow the service counter in the clerk’s office to be moved forward, thus creating more work space behind it.
•  Creating more formal work stations in the space behind the vault and the manager’s office, and creating a small office or storage space off that room.
•  Turning a small space off the back right of the manager’s office into a mechanical room.
•  Installing a new boiler, a cost of at least $25,000 that Hawley said would probably require tapping into the city’s Water Tower Fund.
Funds on hand immediately come from a $20,000 line item in the current budget devoted to city hall maintenance. Hawley said on Wednesday aldermen added money into the line item this past June in anticipation of doing some work this winter.
Probably only about half of that amount will be available to devote to renovations, however — Hawley said routine city hall maintenance has chewed up about $4,700 of that amount in the first five months of the fiscal year.
The available funds will also be used to upgrade the double doors that separate the main lobby from the existing hallway between the clerk’s office and the proposed council room. If the wall is gone that closes off the clerk’s office, Hawley said, those doors must be able to lock, but now they lack all hardware and sills to be properly fastened.
“Those have to be absolutely secure,” he told aldermen.
On Wednesday, Hawley said work to the meeting room would not be simple, either. Removal of security cameras could not be done without damaging the ceiling, he said, and existing cabinets must be removed.
“A certain amount of demolition” is necessary before cosmetic work can begin, Hawley said.
Still, aldermen are hopeful estimates can be obtained and contractors hired to begin work early in 2015 on at least the council room and doors.    
“It’s not a huge amount of construction,” Hawley said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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