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Panton board aims to start town hall repairs

PANTON — The Panton selectboard will have bids and drawings in hand at its Dec. 12 meeting for a project that would fix Panton Town Hall’s deteriorating steps up to its main meeting space and replace what board members call its also sub-par handicap-access ramp.
Board members said last week they had hoped to have that work done already, but is has been slowed by delays in getting plans.
They are still aiming to hire a contractor who could finish the job before Town Meeting Day in March, but even with proposals coming in on Dec. 1 from Middlebury’s Breadloaf Corp. and Brandon’s McKernon Group the timing is uncertain.
“We’re always hopeful. We’re playing the best we can with what we’ve got in front of us, but we’re definitely hopeful and excited to look at a couple of bids and get moving,” said board member Zachary Weaver, who led the board’s Nov. 28 meeting while Chairman Howard Hall was out of town. “We’re feeling confident we’re moving in the right direction.”
Hall, back in town, described the problems, for which the town has set aside about $55,900 to address.
“They (the stairs) are fairly old, and the board’s concern is safety. We want to make sure they’re up to code, and they’re safe, and they’re usable,” he said. “Our handicap ramp definitely needs to be replaced. It’s unsafe, and its construction initially, it was probably not up to par. Again, we need to follow proper business codes and make sure it’s built in the way it’s supposed to be built.”
Hall also acknowledged what is reflected in Nov. 14 selectboard minutes, that board members wished the town’s volunteer Town Hall Committee had forwarded plans and identified potential contractors more quickly.
“They were supposed to be produced some time in June,” Hall said. “We want to get this project done before Town Meeting Day. I want to make sure everything is safe and secure on the stairs. I don’t want any problems, or even thoughts of problems, and now we’re kind of behind the 8-ball a little bit here.”
Weaver said on Nov. 28 the board agreed to focus on making a decision on the 12th that could allow the project to be completed by March.
“It is starting to head in the right direction. We’re getting excited. We just want to pore over the bids and get those on the table,” Weaver said. “We should have them in front of them for the meeting of the 12th, so we’ll have a good idea then.”
The current focus does not include replacing town hall’s cupola. In 2016 the town earned a $25,000 Walter Cerf Community Fund grant from the Vermont Community Foundation toward restoring the cupola, which was removed in 2011 in order to save money on a roofing project and since then has been sitting in town hall’s side yard. A project to put the cupola back on top of the building has been estimated at $75,000.
The selectboard insisted then that town funding should be put toward what board members believed were more pressing needs, but they said they would support a private fundraising effort for the cupola.
OTHER WORK DONE
Although the cupola timetable remains uncertain, many other improvements have been made to Panton Town Hall as part of a deal between the town and Green Mountain Power involving its nearby 5-megawatt solar array.
That array also includes a proposed battery-powered micro-grid that could provide electricity to town buildings and surrounding homes and businesses in case of an outage.
As well as providing that micro-grid and donating to the funds that Panton will use toward the stairs and ramp work, GMP also agreed to contribute toward energy-efficiency improvements to Panton’s town hall and garage. That work is just wrapping up.
Hall said the upgrades include:
•  New hot water heaters for town hall and the town garage.
•  Five heat pumps, one each for the town clerk’s and town garage offices, and three for town hall’s meeting space.
•  New energy-efficient windows and fiberglass doors for town hall.
•  Insulation in town hall’s sidewalls and attic.
•  LED light fixtures throughout town hall and the town garage.
•  An auxiliary heater for the town hall meeting room, and repairs to the building’s furnace.
The town is paying a $240 surcharge on its monthly GMP bill to pay for its share of the improvements, according to Town Clerk and Treasurer Pam Correia.
Hall said the energy savings from the upgrades will help to offset that fee, and the fact that Panton did not have to front money was a huge bonus.
“Just the windows alone, there’s no way we could have bid all those items,” Hall said.
Those projects also make the meeting space more user-friendly year-round, and Hall said once the building is fully accessible, that space could be used for private as well as town functions.
“We’re trying to use that building more, and emphasizing with all the new improvements to it, we want to make it more accessible to the public,” he said.
Weaver said all those who have worked on improving Panton Town Hall share those hopes.
“That’s obviously the end goal, to have the town hall be a great meeting place Panton can be proud of,” he said. “That’s the end goal for everyone.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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