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Gibbs vows to reclaim old Bristol firehouse

BRISTOL — The old Bristol firehouse at 32 North St. will soon have a new owner, if all goes as planned. Last week, the Bristol selectboard unanimously chose William Gibbs’ proposal to renovate and restore the historic 120-year-old structure.
“She will be a gem in the town when I get done,” Gibbs had told the selectboard when he and the other contenders presented their vision for the 1897 building earlier in February.
Gibbs plans to restore the property and renovate it as a private residence, with the first floor converted into a small wood shop and the second floor being made into the living area.
Gibbs is a master woodworker with over 30 years’ professional experience as a construction foreman, project manager and mill shop plant manager. He currently works as a bench carpenter for Connor Homes in the windows division that remains open.
His project documentation and Feb. 13 presentation to the selectboard underscored Gibbs’ enthusiasm for and expertise in handling detailed restoration projects.
The selectboard first put out a request for proposal to find a new owner and new purpose for Bristol’s old firehouse last June, as the fire department was getting ready to move into the new fire station on West Street.
The selectboard rejected the only proposal submitted. A second call for ideas brought in three proposals. Robert Bernstein resubmitted his plan to renovate the 1897 structure as a museum of 19th century woodworking machinery. Selectman John “Peeker” Heffernan recused himself from the decision-making process and together with his wife, Heather, submitted a proposal to renovate the building as a bed and breakfast. Gibbs proposed to renovate the structure as a woodshop and private home.
All three presented their proposals and answered questions at the Feb. 13 selectboard meeting. Two weeks later, the selectboard made its decision.
“The selection process was terrific — transparent, open, honest,” said Town Administrator Therese Kirby. “The selectboard weighed the options, accepted feedback from citizens, and chose the project that best served Bristol’s taxpayers.
“Bill’s plan will put the building on the grand list. The home occupation will draw visitors. He’ll restore not just the front but great portions of the building itself.
“It was a unanimous decision.
“The selectboard congratulates Bill and thanks Heather, Peeker and Bob for their well thought out proposals.”
The building will sell for $95,000 “as is.”
Kirby said the selectboard carefully weighed the pros and cons of each proposal.  With Bernstein’s museum proposal the selectboard weighed the likely loss of property tax, as the museum would likely become property-tax exempt over time. Also, the board was unconvinced that the museum would be a big enough draw to fulfill its promises to benefit local stores and restaurants and put Bristol on the map.
The Heffernans’ proposal was intriguing because of the need for more visitor lodging in Bristol. But it was also at variance with Bristol’s revised zoning regulations up for approval on Town Meeting Day. These regulations stipulate that lodgings of 12 bedrooms or fewer must be owner occupied. The Heffernans proposed a four-bedroom inn and planned to live off site.
The town plans to close the sale in early April — with one possible hitch. Vermont law gives 30 days for a petition by five percent of the town’s voters to halt the sale and take the matter before a special town meeting where the matter would be brought to a vote.
The Independent could not reach Gibbs before the Friday deadline for this edition, but we spoke with his son, John Gibbs, who will be working with Bill Gibbs on the project. John Gibbs said that once the sale closes, his dad expects to jump right in on the project.
“My dad’s not very good at sitting still. The second he gets it he’ll start working,” John Gibbs said.
Working from his dad’s project timeline, John Gibbs said that work on the exterior would likely be completed within a few months and that the entire project would be completed within a little less than a year.
The father-son duo is also considering hosting a walk-through for Bristol residents to see the interior before work begins and after work is complete — if there’s sufficient interest.
“He really wants to include the community,” John Gibbs said.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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