On December 15, 2021

Woodstock Select Board to appoint new town hall committee

By Katy Savage

The Woodstock Select Board has disbanded the town hall renovation committee after the 10-person volunteer group failed to make a recommendation to improve the building after five years.

Select Board members decided Dec. 7 that they’ll appoint a new municipal committee in January.

“It is disappointing, of course,” Jill Davies, the co-chair of the renovation committee, said in a phone interview.

The Select Board’s decision came after committee members presented several options to the Select Board on Nov. 15 but stated they couldn’t recommend pursuing any of them because costs were too high, ranging from $14.5 million to $23 million.

The committee spent years analyzing the building and commissioned several reports from engineers and architects, while raising about $4 million in private donations.

Jon Spector, who co-chairs the committee with Davies, said members couldn’t find a way to strengthen the theater, maintain the historic integrity of the building, be environmentally sound and keep the costs “reasonable” to taxpayers.

“We were not confident yet that any of the solutions would meet those needs,” Spector said, but he said the group was willing to keep working.

“We weren’t giving up,” Spector said. “We did a lot of good work. We made a lot of progress. We discovered a lot of facts. I think we laid out a wide range of options — none of which were perfect.”

One problem contributing to the exorbitant costs was a report from Sellers Treybal Structural Engineers PC in September 2019, which found the town hall had “serious structural issues,” Spector said.

The engineering report found both the original building, built in 1899, and the stage addition, built in 1929, have settled since their construction due to soil erosion.

“That’s an important factor in determining what can and can’t be done with that building,” Spector said. “One of the issues that [the new committee] likely is going to want to pursue is to get a second opinion on the structural integrity of the building.”

The Select Board’s discussion to replace the current town hall renovation committee started after Pentangle Arts board chair Katie Brickner sent Town Manager Bill Kerbin a letter on Dec. 2 urging the board to appoint a new committee.

Brickner applauded the current committee’s work while stating new committee members should have expertise in capital planning, design, construction, and financing.

“We envision that the Town Hall Committee — in concert with the Capital Budget Committee — could in the ensuing year, set goals, priorities, and expectations,” Brickner wrote. “Only then, with a building program drafted from a widely assembled group of stakeholders should further architectural design commence.”

Brickner also pressed the importance of replacing the town hall’s HVAC system and cooling unit while addressing ADA accessibility issues.

Unlike the former group, this one will be appointed by the town and therefore subject to the state’s open meeting laws.

Spector said the committee has transitional plans for the new members to take over where they left off.

“I think having a fresh set of eyes can be quite useful,” Spector said. “I think everyone on our team is available to help. There’s no hard feelings.”

It’s unclear if any of the group’s current members will be on the new committee.

Davies said she doesn’t plan to continue.

“I worked on this project for five years, I think I’m going to take a break,” she said.

Kerbin, the town manager, said the Select Board will be taking applications.

“There was a consensus that this was the right approach,” Kerbin said.

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