Panton town hall renovations to begin soon

PANTON — Although some questions remain about the feasibility of a kitchen on the upper level of Panton Town Hall, work that voters approved on Town Meeting Day to improve the 19th-century structure will soon begin.
Overall plans call for making town hall’s two bathrooms handicap-accessible, replacing the handicap ramp, adding the kitchen, and installing a newly built, low-maintenance cupola to replace the deteriorated cupola that was removed in 2011.
Voters in March approved using $100,000 from a general fund surplus to pay for the work, and also authorized the selectboard to borrow up to $100,000 for the cupola project.
Residents also agreed to Town Hall Committee Chairman David Raphael’s motion to add $23,775 to the selectboard’s recommendation of $15,000 to be placed into the Town Hall Restoration Fund.
Those funds, plus $18,000 remaining in a grant for the cupola and ongoing extra tax revenue from new Green Mountain Powers 5-megawatt solar array — revenue voters have agreed to put towards town hall — will pay for the project, per estimates from contractor McKernon Group of Brandon.
The Panton selectboard last week authorized McKernon to begin renovating the two bathrooms, one that serves the basement town office and one that serves the upper-level meeting room.
Another key handicap-accessibility project will begin soon, according to Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall, the replacement of the building’s unusable access ramp.
“After we’re done with the bathrooms, then we’re going to focus on the ramp,” Hall said.
The downstairs bathroom is out of service, but Hall said it is due to a failed pump, not a larger septic system problem. Officials decided as long as one facility was available and two were on the way it didn’t make sense to fix the short-term problem. Hall said workers will focus on the town office rest room first.
“We’ll get that downstairs bathroom up and running as soon as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile the board is looking into the feasibility of the kitchen, which was supported in a town survey as well as at Town Meeting Day.
Two issues must be dealt with. Officials say the building’s septic system is adequate for the two rest rooms, but could not handle extra gray water from a kitchen sink and dishwasher.
“We have an older system that’s good for two bathrooms, period,” Hall said.
Panton Town Hall Committee member and former selectman John Viskup at town meeting said he had learned that public buildings like Panton Town Hall could be permitted for a holding tank. According Raphael, Viskup has agreed to work with the selectboard on that solution.
Hall said the board will wait on the tank until it knows the state will permit it, with one issue being what the building would be used for if the kitchen is installed; that is, would more intensive uses raise questions about the septic system.
“We have to make sure the state of Vermont … would approve such activities that we could do that,” Hall said.
Raphael said he believes adding the kitchen would just enhance the building’s existing uses, and that adding the kitchen should be OK with the state on those grounds.
“I think we’ll use it occasionally, but what this does is give us the opportunity to have events and community gatherings, and have a meal or a dinner,” Raphael said. “No one is about to go out and put an ad in the paper and say, ‘Come rent Panton Town Hall.’”
Hall said the second kitchen question is whether a state fire marshal might insist on fire suppression measures, such as sprinklers, that would be too much for Panton to afford.
Again, Raphael is optimistic, although he said Hall is “right to have those concerns.” Raphael noted a visit from a state fire marshal a year ago — he granted the inspection did not include a kitchen — in which it was determined existing measures were adequate for the building’s legal occupancy numbers.
“It has always been a meeting house that has a certain capacity, which of course we would need to respect and observe,” Raphael said.
Hall is also cautious on the cupola funding, which was not in the original selectboard budget.
“We did not budget money to make payments on a $100,000 loan,” Hall said. “We have to make sure we have sufficient funds.”
Raphael, again, was more optimistic.
“I think it was pretty clear that the town expected that if needs be we would bond for it,” he said. “I think we understand we might have to get a loan to do it, and that loan would be paid back by the revenues, as the wording indicated, from new sources of revenue such as the solar field.”
Hall said the work would get done “at the best of our ability as a board,” but board members want to proceed carefully.
“We’re making sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed and everything is done, we have a permit and we have an understanding what our responsibilities are, either with the septic field or with the cupola,” Hall said. “It takes some time and I have to make sure I have the finances to do all that.”
Raphael said he understands the need for care, although he called the $100,000 budget “more than adequate” for the cupola.
“I think the selectboard understands it’s now their role to follow the wishes and directions of the voters. But it is in their purview to make the decisions on how best to fund this and where the money is coming from and the timing,” he said.
Raphael is also looking forward to seeing all the work done, including the cupola back on town hall.
“This is very important to the town both symbolically and physically,” he said. “I just think that restoring this town hall as the singular icon of our community, and really aside from the town garage our only building, it’s absolutely important to our sense of place and our sense of community.”

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