On July 28, 2021

Woodstock Select Board approves conceptual designs for town hall renovation project

By Katy Savage

The Woodstock Select Board unanimously approved moving forward with a multi-million dollar Town Hall renovation project on Tuesday, July 20.

The board specifically approved four design elements — bringing the Town Hall Theatre into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), improving offices and meeting spaces, adding stage wings to the stage house and constructing a new ADA tower.

“There have been a lot of changes and upgrades in serving those who need ADA assistance,” Select Board Chair Mary Riley said after the meeting. “That is a big focus of this change — to accommodate ADA.”

The board also discussed prioritizing energy efficiency and making the building a true community asset.

The town hall was last updated in the 1980s, though the $800,000 renovation at the time was minor in comparison. Initial estimates suggested this project could cost $5-$7 million, but Wendy Spector, who is on the leadership team, said changes to the plans, including adding a larger theater space and the need to purchase more land for the project, will make the renovation more expensive. Spector also acknowledged the rising cost of building materials and the shortage of construction workers.

“We know the project is going to be more than we anticipated,” Spector said at the meeting.

The board reviewed preliminary design plans on Tuesday from John Hemmelgarn, an architect from Black River Design.

Hemmelgarn’s conceptual plans call for an updated heating and cooling system, larger bathrooms and new windows to let in more natural light.

The new, ADA compliant theater on the first floor would see a reduction in seats from about 400 to 300. The current 1927 stage house would be rebuilt and there would be a new ADA tower that would include a production workshop, dressing rooms, an elevator and stairs for performances. There would be a patio in the back with a performers’ lounge and a small catering kitchen for receptions.

There would also be a new meeting space upstairs, with areas for two meetings on the same night, as well as two reception windows — one for the town manager’s office and one for the town clerk’s.

The renovation could take about a year to complete. The theater would close and employees would relocate. Details “needs to be worked out,” Spector said after the meeting.

Spector said the stage would be demolished first, beginning as soon as April 2022. Theater performances could move outside in the summer of 2022 and the project could be done by 2023, if approved by voters.

Spector said a total of $3 million has been raised so far after an initial $1.5 million gift from Max Comins, a former Wall Street investor who later owned the Kedron Valley Inn in South Woodstock. “He wanted to renovate the theater in particular,” Spector said.

Another $1.5 million has come from donors in the community, Spector said. A public round of fundraising will begin in September after plans are more developed. Spector said the goal is to raise as much money as possible through grants and bonds to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

“We’re excited about more public use of the building,” Spector said.

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