Panton preserving antique town building

PANTON — Panton officials have in recent meetings agreed on how to approach both making and paying for improvements to Panton Town Hall and to raising money for potentially returning the building’s cupola to its roofline.
After a Town Hall Committee meeting on Nov. 2 attended by Selectman John Viskup, committee chairman David Raphael said selectboard and committee members are committed to “looking at the building as a whole, looking at all the things we need to do” and “bringing everybody together on an overall master plan” to address Town Hall’s shortcomings and eventually put the cupola back on the building.
“We’re really coming together as to an overall plan,” said Raphael, also the head of the town’s planning commission.
Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall and Viskup had been concerned that the focus on the cupola project, for which Panton recently earned a $25,000 Walter Cerf Community Fund grant from the Vermont Community Foundation, could detract from what they believe are Town Hall’s more pressing needs.
Raphael, who wrote the successful grant application to help with the estimated $75,000 cost of restoring the cupola — now sitting on blocks next to Town Hall — and putting it back on the building, also met with the selectboard on Oct. 25.
Hall said after some back-and-forth all parties agreed on the priorities: The selectboard wants to devote town funds to Town Hall, but will support a private effort to restore and replace the cupola, which was removed in 2011 to save money on a roofing project.
“I think there was always a meeting of the minds. It’s just the cupola was more of an express train, and we were saying you should slow it down and be more like a slow and steady freight,” Hall said. “We would be happy to do this if it meets those qualifications.”
Those qualifications include that the heavy cupola doesn’t hurt the 158-year-old building’s structure and enough money can be raised to handle the cupola’s future maintenance needs.
“We want to make sure it fits the building right, it doesn’t damage the building, and there may be even some funds for maintenance and upkeep,” said Hall.
Meanwhile, all agree the Town Hall Committee should addresses Town Hall’s more pressing issues.
Hall listed a number of things that the committee has discussed: replacement of the stairs to the second floor and of the entry ramp to be ADA-compliant, renovations of the bathroom to be ADA-compliant, an upgrade of electrical systems, insulation and sealing of the building, and replacement of flashing around the chimneys, the heating and ventilation systems, leaking and rotting windows, and leaking or rusted doors.
Much of that work would make the second-floor meeting space more useful as well as upgrade town offices, officials said.
“We’re looking at those things because those are day-to-day functions. We need quality heat and a good workspace for employees,” Hall said, adding a timetable for addressing some issues could be set at the board’s Nov. 15 meeting. “John and I are at this time very concerned about getting these items done and getting the building back to the way it’s supposed to be.”
Some work will be done in conjunction with support from Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont, which will help install new thermal envelopes and heat pumps in the town clerk’s office and town garage. On Oct. 25 the selectboard appointed Katie Werthmann as Panton’s project manager and liaison for work to be done with GMP and Efficiency Vermont.
Panton residents have also in recent years approved $15,000 annually to maintain and improve Panton Town Hall.
“We are committed to the maintenance and preservation of our buildings and want to approach this systematically and economically,” Hall said. “Our list of deficiencies will require us to carefully prioritize our capital projects.”
Those priorities do not mean the cupola will be ignored, Raphael said. He is pursuing one approach discussed at the Oct. 25 meeting, setting up a separate nonprofit to oversee fundraising and other details for the cupola project, and has reached out to the town attorney, Vermont historic preservation officials and other experts.
“I am exploring it,” said Raphael.
Hall said such an entity would allow the town’s hourly employees to handle other tasks, and if the fundraising fell short of its goal of $75,000 of cash and in-kind donations, money raised could be more easily returned.
“We want the separate identity so if it doesn’t come to fruition that we have this, and we can give the checks or donations back,” he said.
Hall said the selectboard — which on Oct. 25 appointed Zack Weaver to the selectboard to replace the resigned Beth Tarallo — does support the cupola project.
“It’s essentially the same standard that happened with the Vergennes Opera House. The city of Vergennes said basically, you guys do the work on this and improve it, we would love to have it better,” Hall said. “We’re enthusiastic about it. We want it to happen. But, again, with the limited amount of funds that we have and the limited amount of taxing dollars that we have, we have so many other greater needs. For us, the idea was this was kind of like the cherry on the sundae.”
Raphael is confident in both the cupola project and the effort to restore Panton Town Hall. He cited a recent planning commission survey to which 92 residents responded.
The survey showed, he said, that 68.5 percent supported putting the cupola back on town hall without taxpayer support, 53 percent favored doing so even with town funds, and 70 percent approved of renovating Panton Town Hall for year-round use as a community center.
“People are coming together,” Raphael said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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