New Haven picks new home for train depot
NEW HAVEN — After months of community conversations and wrangling with state officials it looks like the New Haven Junction Train Depot will no longer be located at a junction.
At an emergency meeting last week the town selectboard, needing to choose a new home for the depot in order to apply for a $350,000 grant, chose a site on North Street, just north of the town office and library.
“This isn’t a choice, as far as I’m concerned,” said selectboard member Steve Dupoise. “It’s either we do this or we have the very strong possibility of losing the train station and that is not an option.”
The depot, which has housed the offices of Roundtree Construction for decades, is owned by Vermont Historic Preservation and sits on land it leases from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) at the junction of Routes 7 North and 17 West, where the building has been located since it was built in the 19th century.
Amtrak and AOT officials say the building poses a number of safety hazards that will only become more dangerous when Amtrak passenger service is extended from Rutland to Burlington at the end of this year or early next and trains start cruising past at 59 miles per hour. They say the building must either be moved or demolished.
“It’s unfortunate that our backs are against the wall and that we’re feeling pressured, but I think to lose this piece of history and have it demolished is just not right,” said selectboard member Kathy Barrett at last week’s meeting. “So we need to do whatever we can to preserve this.”
In February town officials and community members formed the New Haven Train Depot Advisory Committee to explore options for saving the building, including finding a new home and alternative uses for it.
But moving the train depot, which is in need of some structural work, carries a hefty price tag — as much as $600,000, according to estimates received by the selectboard — and that’s before building a foundation and establishing utility connections. Temporarily moving power lines to make way for a traveling building, should that become necessary, could cost up to $200,000 all by itself.
“If you asked 100 townsfolk do we want to keep this train station, I think 99 of them, maybe 98 of them would say yes,” said selectboard chair John Roleau at last week’s meeting. “If you asked 100 of the townspeople if they wanted to keep this train station but it was going to cost the town a half-million dollars, we would significantly drop off on the hands raised.”
By March, when State Historic Preservation Officer Laura Trieschmann informed Dupoise that funding could become available to move the building if the town would just pick a spot, three location options were on the table:
• the North Street parcel, which the town owns.
• War Memorial Park, next to the Village Green Market, which the town owns.
• the southeastern corner of the junction of Routes 7 North and 17 East, across from the Jiffy Mart, which is owned by Champlain Oil.
But Dupoise and New Haven architect Florian Oberhuber determined that relocating the depot to Memorial Park “would be overpowering to the size of that lot,” Dupoise said.
And an initial assessment of the Champlain Oil lot was also negative.
“There is some potential hazardous waste at that location and it does not bode well for any of the federal/state grants that we’re applying for,” Roleau said. “At this time we do not dare take a chance at not getting these grants, because unfortunately they’re super-necessary in the proper moving of this building.”
New Haven officials had originally hoped to conduct a townwide straw poll in July to get community feedback on building locations, but grant deadlines required the selectboard make an immediate decision.
At stake is the possibility of a $350,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), a federal-state partnership that invests in community and economic development projects across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. Two years ago the NBRC awarded a $500,000 grant to the Stoney Hill Business Park project in Bristol.
The application deadline for the 2021 NBRC grant is May 14. Recipients will be notified in August. If New Haven receives a grant it would have to provide matching funds, but could be begin work on moving the train depot as early as Oct. 1.
The value of the building, which Historic Preservation will gift to New Haven, would count as part of the matching funds the town must produce. AOT has offered to chip in $31,000, and Historic Preservation has offered another $25,000.
Town and AOT officials are also hopeful about the potential for $400,000 in funding from the state transportation budget, which is still being hashed out in Montpelier, but Dupoise and AOT Special Projects Manager Trini Brassard reported last week that the town’s proposal didn’t find an entirely positive reception during a May 4 meeting with members of the House Transportation Committee.
Before the selectboard voted last week, Roleau was cautious but upbeat.
“I think it would be foolish of us as a group to say that we can guarantee that we’re going to get this building moved for nothing, because that’s just not how the world works,” he said. “But I’m willing to roll the dice, so to speak, to go after as much of the money and the grants as we can to save this building and get it moved on a piece of property the town owns. If we had more time, that would be one thing. If we had more help that’d be another thing…”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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