Letter to the editor: Panton seeks OK for town hall fix
Editor’s note: The writer is chair of the Panton Planning Commission and Development Review Board.
Around town meeting time one often resorts to homilies regarding the tradition and its role in our northern New England culture…but this year there seems to be a difference — gathering together as a community seems more compelling. Hard on the heels of national sadness and scandal, discord and dystopia, it is apparent that here in Vermont we grapple with many of the same challenges and realities. Town meeting provides an opportunity for us to come together with our neighbors, to hash things out — find common cause and purpose in keeping the roads plowed, the schools funded, the budget balanced, and for our small town of Panton, this year, keeping the very meeting hall itself open. In fact, our town is having this year’s annual meeting in the town garage because of the lack of accessibility to the meeting space.
These places and spaces we gather in as neighbors and friends, newcomers and old timers, newborns and teens, are the icons of our shared civility, and our town halls and meeting houses are truly the heart of our communities. The effort and expense citizens in towns such as Cornwall, Brandon and Ferrisburgh have invested in recent years has paid off in beautiful yet functional multi-purpose facilities that serve them well. Addison is coming to grips with the work its hall will need and Monkton has explored the replacement or renovation of its building. Each of the public buildings in these towns and so many others throughout our state represent both the inspiration and aspiration of architecture and place making. Our town center edifices are part of who we are and how we value community. Each of them have stories to tell, are markers of history and landmarks which enrich the physical fabric of our villages and provide a focal point for our communitarian spirit.
Panton has a landmark too. It could be seen from the summits of Buck and Snake Mountains — the town hall with its cupola and the Baptist Church next to it sitting astride the last ridge before the lake with the backdrop of the Adirondacks. But no longer — our 1858 town hall lost its signature cupola several years ago when the roof was repaired and the selectboard, concerned about structural integrity, left it on the ground. The Greek Revival style State Historic Register building has not been the same without its classic cupola. Years ago at town meeting we had well attended luncheons. Those gatherings ended some time ago and events have been few and far between in our aging meeting space, now lacking in accessibility and suitable ADA compliant restrooms, as well as needing a place to prepare for those luncheons. We have bids for all the necessary work in place. All told, the bid amounts came in at $69,000 for the proposed upstairs renovations including a small kitchen, storage areas and the two ADA bathrooms. The cupola was bid at $ 90,980, the outdoor ramp at $65,000, and $15,000 was included to cover additional electrical, plumbing and finish work. The selectboard has already initiated part of the bid package with the new entryway to the building.
Panton voters have a singular opportunity this year to vote to complete the restoration effort for the town hall, and to put the cupola back to its rightful place atop the building. We are so fortunate to have a grant from the Walter Cerf Fund that will cover about a quarter of the cost, a budget surplus that can be applied and a revenue stream from the new solar project to underwrite the investment in the other building improvements — as was initially approved at last year’s town meeting. This will mean no new taxes for accomplishing this work. A recent town survey found that 70 percent of residents supported the meeting hall renovation and 68 percent were in favor of restoring the cupola. Those of us who have dedicated our efforts over the last 10 years towards making the town hall whole again are hopeful that our fellow citizens will take the time and support the renovation and restoration project.
A few years ago, our town, like so many others in Vermont, celebrated 250 years of existence. We came together as a community. This year, we are hopeful that in Panton, we can do it again.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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