New cupola bought for Panton Town Hall

PANTON — Years of work to restore and modernize Panton Town Hall are nearing completion after the selectboard recently struck a deal to purchase an aluminum replica cupola to place on top of the building by later this summer or early fall.
Including installation, the cupola will cost about $63,000, according to meeting minutes.
And Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall said the Cerf Foundation, which pledged $25,000 toward installing a restored original cupola back on the building, will support the aluminum version with the remaining $15,000 unspent from that grant.
“She (the grant manager) said send us the invoices for the cupola,” Hall said, “and we’ll send you the checks.”
In recent years Panton has used annual taxpayer contributions to its Town Hall Restoration fund, plus financial support and technical expertise from Green Mountain Power, to make a series of critical improvements to its town hall.
GMP agreed to work with the town to make energy improvements to town buildings, among other concessions, as part of an agreement with town officials for the siting of a 5-megawatt solar array not far from town hall.
As part of that deal, GMP helped the town install in the town hall four heat pumps, energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, LED light fixtures, and an auxiliary heater for the town hall meeting room. GMP also consulted with town officials on furnace repairs.
Meanwhile, the town has also in the past two years funded a new handicap-access ramp for the town hall, new handicap-accessible bathrooms in its meeting room, repairs to its stairs to the meeting room, and other needed work to its eaves and roofing, some of that done when the cupola was removed in 2011.
But the question of what to do about the cupola has been debated since then, and that debate was formally and finally resolved in April, when the selectboard voted to contract with Campbellsville Industries of Campbellsville, Ky., to custom-build an aluminum replica of Panton’s cupola based on plans drawn up by Vergennes architect Norman LeBoeuf.
“Every cupola is custom order. There is nothing off the rack,” said Hall, who has noted the company’s clients have included the U.S. Naval Academy.
The quote from Campbellsville came in at $46,799, and the McKernon Group, which has performed much of the work at Panton Town Hall, estimated installation would be another roughly $17,000, according to April selectboard meeting minutes.
That estimate includes prep work for the installation as well as crane and man-lift rental for a project that, Hall said, could take as little as four hours once it is done in September or possibly late August.
The town now has almost $29,000 in its Town Hall Restoration Fund, with another $15,000 due this year after voters approved it in March. Voters on Town Meeting Day also approved a selectboard budget with a line item of $4,140 for a loan payment for an aluminum cupola, with the expectation of similar line items in future years if necessary.
“We’ll see how much of a loan we need,” Hall said. “It could be anywhere from 15 to 25 or 35 thousand dollars over a five-year period.”
Hall said the cupola will weigh less than 1,000 pounds and will place less stress on town hall’s structure than replacing the original cupola would, and maintenance costs would be lower than trying to maintain a wooden cupola.
In addition, the aluminum cupola will sit on six half-inch legs that means the cupola would not trap moisture under it, thus protecting the roof’s integrity, Hall said. It also comes with a 30-year guarantee, and Campbellsville claims the cupola is resistant to winds of up to 120 mph.
“It’s got all these things that are advantageous to us, and the people at the Cerf Foundation are very excited about that,” Hall said.
As for the old cupola, which is still sitting behind and to the left of town hall, there are two options to move it out. One is a local farmer might take it off the town’s hands, but the selectboard is still seeking a firm commitment.
“There is a farmer who is interested in that,” Hall said. “He’s talked about it, but we want a drop-dead date.”
If that option doesn’t work out, the cupola will be demolished and hauled off to the Addison County Solid Waste Management District transfer station in Middlebury, adding slightly to the project cost.
“We believe it would fit in one load of a dump truck,” Hall said.
One town hall element remains up in the air — a possible kitchen in the second level to go along with the meeting room. Respondents to a planning commission survey a few years back supported the idea of a kitchen because it could allow Panton Town Hall to serve as a community meeting center.
To add a sink and possibly a dishwasher, however, would require at the very least adding a pumpable wastewater holding tank to the building on top of the expense of installing the kitchen.
Hall said given the potential cost the selectboard remains skeptical of how strong the demand really is. 
“We’re going to finish this project and see what happens. We haven’t had a lot of demand for a kitchen. Our suggestion is there is a church next door, and if this really is an interest that the public wants to have a kitchen or meetings, let’s try that for a while, organize that and see how it is,” Hall said. “The selectboard’s basic position is that we don’t want to be, ‘build it and they will come.’ If there is a need for it we will do it, (but) we believe it will be substantial money.”
If the kitchen is postponed or abandoned, Hall said all that will remain to be done is a floor refinishing project estimated at about $10,000, interior painting, a new sign, new gravel to the rear to expand parking, and maybe a minor upgrade to the building’s landscaping in the front.
All that and an exterior paint job in a few years can be accomplished, he believes, with a continued annual $15,000 contribution toward town hall maintenance.
“It kind of finishes everything up for town hall. There are a couple more things we’re probably still looking to do,” Hall added, but after that “our town hall will be in excellent shape.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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