Salisbury town hall sized up for repairs

SALISBURY — Salisbury residents on Aug. 22 will be presented with repair options for their historic town hall at 918 Maple St.  The building doesn’t get a lot of community use right now due to shortcomings that include a lack of running water and access obstacles for people with disabilities.
The building in question is a 2.5-story, wood frame, Greek Revival style structure erected in 1869. It was expanded in 1908 and then renovated in 1948 following a major fire. Salisbury Town Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the State Register of Historic Places as a “contributing building” in the Salisbury Village Historic District.
The ravages of time and more stringent federal and state standards for public venues have limited the old town hall’s hosting capabilities. Its large, second-floor meeting room is limited to a maximum of 49 people. It continues to provide a home to the local library, and can accommodate some occasional board meetings and small functions. But Salisbury Town Hall stopped hosting annual town meetings more than two decades ago after the community built a new elementary school that provides more ample gathering space and parking.
“The lack of water, septic system, and handicapped access have severely limited the potential town uses for this National Register building, though the beloved library, the historical society, and small local groups have staunchly kept it an active part of the community,” said Glenn Andres, a member of the Salisbury Town Hall Restoration Committee and prominent Addison County historian.
The restoration committee, chaired by resident Mary Burchard, formed around four years ago to explore ways of correcting the building’s deficiencies in an effort to preserve the structure and open it up to wider public use.
In an effort to assess the job at hand, the town contracted with Vermont Integrated Architecture (VIA) to study the building and propose a menu of repair options. Ashar Nelson of VIA is currently fine turning that report, expected to be available prior to the Aug. 22 meeting that will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Salisbury town offices.
Some early information released by VIA speaks to a project that “includes renovations and modifications” to the historic building to increase its functionality with structural upgrades, updated finishes in some spaces, and handicap-access improvements. Plans also call for the building to be plumbed, equipped with a septic system and made more energy efficient.
Nelson identified some specific components of the job, including:
•  Installing a platform lift to the second floor. This lift would be located in the northwest corner of the first floor, where a storage room is now. The open lift and its railing and would be freestanding from the exterior wall and front window.
•  A water system and plumbing will be added to the building and a new bathroom constructed.
•  Repairing a hole in the stone foundation at northwest corner of the building,         while also repairing or reinforcing the west foundation wall.
•  Cutting a new door opening through stone foundation at the rear of building for a new exit door.
•  Upgrading the roof, including potentially adding members to the roof truss system.
Earlier this year VIA asked Plainfield-based historic preservation consultant Suzanne Jamele for feedback on its conceptual plans for the building.
“The addition of a new ADA compliant approach to the building, along with new interior stairs and a lift, will solve the accessibility needs of the building,” Jamele wrote to Nelson in a Jan. 19 letter. “Structural upgrades and the addition of water and septic systems and facilities will allow the building to meet current code requirements and better serve the public. Weatherization steps will make the building a more comfortable and desirable space for community activities while reducing the cost to heat the building. In total, the proposed work will allow the building to continue to play an important role in the life of the community and its on-going use will contribute to the town hall’s long-term preservation.”
Salisbury residents have previously voiced support for preserving their town hall. The local planning commission in 2011 circulated a town plan-related survey of residents on issues ranging from septic system discharge into Lake Dunmore to the future of the town’s landfill. Included among the 40 questions was, “Are you in favor of supporting the long-term maintenance of the town hall?” Of the 86 respondents, 55 (67 percent) replied “yes,” while 18 replied “not sure” and nine said “no.”
Residents will likely be asked to back up that support with dollars to help pay for the repairs.
“I’m afraid it’s going to be relatively expensive,” Burchard said. “It won’t be an easy project.”
Officials have yet to identify potential funding sources, but believe the project could be effected in stages if necessary.
“The committee’s charge was to explore the feasibility of overcoming these problems and returning the building to full public usability,” Andres said. “With the assistance of our planning grant and consultants, the full range of issues (including structural analysis and energy efficiency) and possible remedies have been addressed and minimally invasive solutions proposed that will preserve its historic character. The investigations prove the feasibility of the project. It will rest with the town to decide whether to proceed with it at this point or not.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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