Vergennes City Hall sized up for new conference room

VERGENNES — Work could begin soon to convert the former Vergennes police station’s squad room into a city hall conference room that would host meetings of the development review board, planning commission and possibly city council.
Vergennes City Council members last week discussed the final steps of the renovation of the former police station space, a project that Mayor Michael Daniels said would cost no more than $15,000.
Earlier work toward the front of the building produced an office and ticket window for the Vergennes Opera House, plus office space for the Vergennes Partnership. A door from the city hall’s front lobby opens onto the nonprofits’ shared space.
The larger portion of the station, which was directly across the hall from the city clerk’s office, has remained largely untouched except for removal of police lockers and equipment and preliminary demolition work.
Council members at their Jan. 9 meeting agreed the wall that separates the squad room from the hallway should be removed to create one larger space, meaning wiring and a heating unit in the wall must be moved. Daniels has volunteered to do much of the demolition, as he did in the front offices.
Council members agreed that having citizens coming to do business in city hall walk through an unoccupied conference room is not an ideal situation, but one probably dictated by the building’s layout.
Alderman Matt Chabot called that traffic flow “awkward,” but said he saw no reasonable solution. And while Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly agreed with Chabot and others she said she believed the layout would work fine for city hall employees.
“If it’s comfortable for the people that work there, let’s do it,” Donnelly said.
Although all agreed the wall should be removed, Alderman Renny Perry suggested the extra expense of installing a folding wall that would allow a private meeting room and better define traffic flow, and the council might at least consider the idea in the future.
“I don’t like the idea of people walking into city hall and walking into a conference room. I think it should be a separate room,” Perry said.
There was no debate that the wall should go. As City Manager Mel Hawley noted, its absence will reduce finishing costs. “It actually cheapens the project,” he said.
As for funding, Hawley said as a capital improvement project for downtown city property it is eligible for Water Tower Fund financing. That fund is fed by cellphone companies who pay to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower behind city hall.
Daniels also pledged to City Clerk Joan Devine that the council would at some point finally turn its attention to the tired carpeting and paint of city hall’s existing office space.
“It’s not my intention to leave her office in the shape that it’s in now,” Daniel said.
Devine at that point looked up from her note-taking duties.
“While I’m still employed here?” she asked.
In other business on Jan. 9, the council:
•  Heard from Hawley that the city-owned Sam Fishman Pool finished the 2017 season with a $10,000 fund balance, in part because Fishman family members Andrew and Audrey Fishman Franklin doubled their annual donation from $2,000 to $4,000.
Hawley also credited increased numbers on the Vergennes Champs swim team, the work of pool director Jen Kingsley, and the labor- and material-saving switch in water treatment from pool employees to sewer treatment plant workers.
•  Discussed city input into a planned Feb. 5 Addison County Regional Planning Commission hearing on the 55-page transportation section of the regional plan. Hawley told council members they should make their voices heard on such issues as a potential Route 22A bypass or alternate truck route along Routes 7 and 17.
•  Approved a request by the local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter to place a bench honoring Korean War veterans on city-owned property along Otter Creek off Macdonough Drive.
•  Discussed removal of holiday lights from the city green. Alderman Renny Perry said Vergennes Partnership volunteers would be willing to remove lower lights. Council members agreed to contact volunteer Shannon Mahoney, who collected money to purchase most of the lights this season, to learn her preferences on how the lights should be handled and stored. “Eighty percent of the lights, I think they’re hers,” Hawley said. City Council members also agreed they preferred not to have lights on the green used year-round.
•  Agreed to spend $175 to maintain membership in the Addison County Chamber of Commerce.
•           Appointed Patricia Ganson to replace Henry Broughton on the city’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee, which decides on making loans to city ventures from a pot of money that eventually came to the city as part of a Community Block Grant that helped renovate a Main Street building.

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