Restoration and repair are lead topics at Chester Selectboard

CHESTER, Vt. – The bulk of the Chester Selectboard meeting Wednesday, Aug. 7 dealt with renovation, restoration, and repair projects happening around town, specifically at Chester Town Hall, the Yosemite Firehouse, and the Palmer Bridge.

Town Manager David Pisha informed the Selectboard that he had approached local company Vermont Hardwoods, who had offered to donate flooring to the town 10 or 15 years ago, about donating to the second floor renovation of the Chester Town Hall, which is currently underway.

Though the original offer had been for replacing the stage flooring, Vermont Hardwoods came to look at floor itself with the project supervisor. The company came back with a proposed cost of $6,246 to supply the hardwood maple flooring that would cover the entire upstairs floor. They agreed to eliminate approximately $10,000 of cost as a donation, with an installation cost of $21,000, which would also include securing the subfloor. Wood will be delivered once the other renovations are complete so it can acclimate to the environment before being installed next year. The Selectboard was grateful for the donation and agreed to move forward with a plan. They also agreed to add some formal recognition for Vermont Hardwoods.

The Selectboard once again discussed the restoration of Yosemite Fire House, a historic building identified as the only two tower original fire tower in the nation. The town has been investigating turning the building into a museum. Pisha began by discussing the possibility of moving the building away from the road to eliminate salt spray and road vibrations from continuing to impact the building.

According to his conversations with Devin Colman of Historic Preservation of Vermont, the building could be moved but only up to about 10 feet. Moving the building any further would impact its historical significance and eliminate the possibility of grant funding for restoration. This move would also involve flood plain management input and cost approximately $7,000 just for the study. The anticipated cost for the actual move would be between $30,000 and $50,000.

Chester Historic Preservation Committee member Lillian Willis advised against moving the building, saying that after spending money already on the existing building location, that it was “an incredible waste to the taxpayers money.”

Selectboard members Ben Whalen and Heather Chase agreed that they did not want to move the building with Chase adding that if the building stays there “I want to have a list of priorities about what we’re going to do.”

Leigh Dakin reminded the board that the item before the board was whether to move forward with feasibility study, which would cost $12,000 but “should give us good information and the next steps.”

The feasibility study was recommended by Willis at the last Selectboard meeting in order for the town to resubmit an application for a Historic Preservation Grant that would assist in structural repair of the building. This grant worth $20,000 had previously been denied. The Historic Preservation group outlined three issues that needed to be addressed to reapply: a layout showing potential year-round use; plan for adequate public access and handicapped facilities; and a solution to address lack of adequate parking. All three issues would be addressed with a feasibility study.

The board discussed ways to pay for the feasibility study. At the last meeting, it was agreed to see whether the Chester Historical Society had a renovation fund available. It was confirmed that the fund amount was $2,900. Chase questioned whether they were willing to give the town that money.

Reaching out to Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch after this meeting, he confirmed that according to the stipulations of the fund, the $2,900 must be used for renovation itself and could not be used for a study.

Chester Executive Assistant Julie Hance confirmed that any money saved from the town hall renovation could not be used for the Yosemite restoration. In the town’s own budget, the Selectboard pointed to a Revitalization Fund that currently has $12,000. Pisha agreed to investigate whether they could use that money for the project.

The Selectboard discussed Palmer Bridge, which is in immediate need of temporary repair. There are two options. The preferred is to have the state put in a temporary bridge, which would cost $125 a month to rent. The other is to reinforce the underpinnings of the bridge, costing approximately $89,000. This would provide enough support to increase the weight load needed for heavy trucks to use the bridge. Both options would be discussed at an upcoming meeting.

As for permanent solution for the bridge, the state has offered to pay 80% of a bridge replacement project but only if they can replace one bridge for the three that currently cross the Williams River. The project has an estimated total cost of $1 million with the town being responsible for only 20% of the cost, or $200,000. The town would have to agree with their proposal in order to receive the funding.

The state will attend and present at a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 29 to discuss three scoping studies on local bridges, with the Palmer Bridge being among them.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

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