WHEELOCK — The first phase of restoration work to the historic Wheelock Town Hall is completed, reports town clerk Carol Rossi, who has also served as project manager working with a committee of volunteers hoping to see the building saved.
Structural concerns with the building’s upper level due to trusses being removed many years ago led to the state fire marshal restricting use of the upper level for some time and the town had to take fast measures to stabilize the structure.
Since then, Rossi has sought and received a handful of grants to try to restore the historic building, and voters have been asked to support a costlier rehabilitation, a vote that failed at annual meeting in March.
In an update recently, Rossi said the completion of the first leg of restoration work to the town hall will be marked with an upcoming painting party and community yard sale.
Rossi said last week the select board will be asked at their next meeting to approve a yard sale on the green in front of town hall June 23, and a painting party on July 21 to work on painting the bottom portion of the interior walls of the town hall.
According to Rossi, “The town faced a crisis when the State Department of Public Safety closed the Town Hall to use in March 2016 due to the risk of catastrophic building failure. Wheelock has struggled for over a decade to find a solution to the problems that arise when a historic structure built in 1871 is used for all municipal meetings and services.”
“The roof support system problem was brought to light in 2015 when building assessments completed by Scott Newman and timber framer Jan Lewandowski revealed serious damage to the roof support system,” noted Rossi. “Sometime in the past, thought to be around 1920-1930, someone dismantled the kingrod trusses, cut 24 feet of timber from the center of the 8 x 8 cross ties and took apart and rendered useless the purlin system.”
To allow for temporary shoring on all three levels for the town hall to be re-opened after that discovery, “The Community Foundation of Vermont gave a $5,000 Urgent Needs Grant to help the town cover the $32,000 expense,” said Rossi.
From there, Rossi said, “Wheelock citizens passed a bond initiative in November 2016 to fund permanent repairs to the roof support system and upgrade the electrical wiring in the hall.”
“Wheelock was the very fortunate recipient of a preservation grant in the amount of $50,000 made possible by a joint effort of the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Freeman Foundation. Wheelock also received a $20,000 Vermont Historic Preservation Grant from State of Vermont,” she said.
A number of local contractors and businesses have worked on the building to help the town get to this point, said Rossi.
Rossi said, “Work continued throughout the fall and winter of 2017. ”
“With the hanging of the last antique globe and the receipt of the occupancy permit in May, this phase of the Wheelock Town Hall Project has come to an end,” said Rossi, who is also the town treasurer.
She reported recently that “The final costs for all the work done came to $199,704.
Once final grant funds and unused matching funds from VCDP Planning Grant are applied, the town will only owe about $80,000 on this project.”
“The loan on the structural repair project was for $171,000, that was the total amount borrowed,” Rossi explained. “Grants, which are paid to the Town after the work is completed, have reduced the loan by $70,000.”
Voters did approve $30,000 for the Town Hall Reserve Fund, which will be used to pay down the loan,” as well, she noted. “The town will owe $47,207 plus interest on Jan. 1, 2019,” she said of the balance she said the town will be able to pay off in full by 2020.
She continued, “The vote held on Town Meeting day to borrow $875,000 for rehabilitation of the Town Hall, to address the accessibility, fire and safety code violations, delayed maintenance and a list of needed repairs, failed.”
Rossi said the committee has “no definite plans at this time to schedule another vote on a revised proposal for rehabilitation work on the Town Hall.” She said she is seeking advice from contractors and other professionals “on construction costs and strategies to design the project in a way that is both more attractive to contractors and may result in lower costs.”
Select Board Chairman Jason DiGiulio on Thursday said of the remaining work needed for the Town Hall, including some public safety measures, “.I know what we need to do, I just need to figure out how to help the others and the town actually do it.”