By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
BRIDGEWATER – Sixteen local residents showed up at the Select Board meeting Tuesday afternoon to express their concerns about tearing down the old Bridgewater Village School.
“Is anyone prepared to give us a report?” asked Board member Lynn Bertram.
Local residents Joni Kennedy and Brian Bontrager related that an informal community forum at the Grange Hall took place on March 22 for those who wanted to express their concerns about the demolition of the building.
There were about 75 people who attended, including Select Board Chair Nope Martin, Kennedy said.
“As a next step, we come before you,” said Kennedy, who read a petition to the Board requesting a special town meeting to vote on whether the school should be added to the state of Vermont historic buildings; the possibility of renting the building in the future; or its potential sale.
Kennedy said she and others said the building is an important part of the history of the town.
“It has a big presence in our community,” Kennedy said. “It would be great to sell it and allow someone to come in who has a vision and would like to repurpose and utilize it.”
Kennedy said she recognized that it would cost money to tear down the building, but if it were saved, it might create revenue.
“We want to continue the dialogue that we began at the Grange,” said Bontrager. “That’s another reason why we’re all here. The building is important to the town folk and warrants a lot of discussion. There’s a lot of potential in that building.”
Local resident Ellen Quinn noted that the two meetings concerning the tearing down of the building did not receive the newspaper coverage that was warranted.
“As a resident here, I don’t want to sell that land,” said Quinn. “We’ve done the legal notice, had the meetings, and did the vote. What else do we have to do? Whatever is done, be it torn down or restored, every member of this town should be given notice and time for their input.”
Bertram noted that the community forum at the Grange had little notice and the petition is not a legal document.
“It was not a town meeting,” said Bertram. “If the voters had signed the petition within 30 days, the vote could have been rescinded. But it didn’t happen. All this petition is showing is that there is an enormous amount of community interest now. It’s pretty amazing. But the statutes read that the only way the original vote can be rescinded is if we as a Select Board unanimously agree to have another town meeting.”
Kennedy urged the board to allow attendants to share their thoughts, despite Board Chair Nope Martin’s request to shorten the time.
“We’re not the enemy,” said Martin. “We asked the town originally what it wanted to do. We’ll take this under advisement. If enough people want to save the building, then it should be saved. But I wish you had done this two years ago. At the time of the vote, it was decided to tear the building down three times.”
Kennedy said she would like the building to stay in the community for years to come.
“It should be in our best interest, whatever that is,” Kennedy said. “It would be very unfortunate to tear down a building that has historic value.”
Quinn asked if a town is required to have a designated shelter in case of an emergency to which the board said no. She also asked if there is another piece of property upon which a fire department could be built.
“Do we have something that is centrally located and flat that we could use instead of this property here?” Quinn asked.
Bertram responded that there is no fire station in the works.
“At the town meeting, the voters voted to raise $15,000 to look into the engineering and planning of a community building/fire house,” said Bertram. “That’s the only thing we’ve done. In order for a new fire house to go into the works, we have
to vote on that.”
Local resident Collen Doyle noted the historic qualities of the building.
“It meets three criteria,” said Doyle. “What we’re asking for is a meeting to come up with some options. There will be a day where we arrive at a diplomatic solution.”
Local resident Hugh Shackleton noted that, should the town vote to repurpose the building, his company is a good option.
“Please keep that in mind when you come to a decision,” said Shackleton.
Bertram suggested to the group that there should be a committee to get statistics to be presented at a future meeting.
“It has to be organized,” said Bertram. “There has to be structure and planning to look at this.”
Robinson suggested to perhaps “unwork” the original November meeting and review the legality of a revote.
“If this is a petition, and we as a board accept it, the timeline begins right now,” said Martin.
Bertram suggested that a committee needs to be appointed and a plan made before moving forward.
“We’re heading down a slippery slope,” said Martin. “We’ve heard your concerns. Thank you for your time, but again I wish you had done this earlier. There are procedures that are in place for a reason and we might be in a gray area right now.”
Bertram said board members need to be open minded enough to allow the process to materialize.
“Can the three of us agree to table the issue right now?” Bertram asked of Martin and board member Mary Oldenburg.
Martin noted that legal counsel needs to be sought to understand what the next steps are. As a result, a decision was made by the board to table the petition.
“The board appreciates the petition and those who showed up,” said Bertram.
Board members agreed that 9 members should be on the committee representing the Planning Commission, Fire Department, and community at large. The board presently is looking for 5 volunteers.
In other business, board members approved the Wastewater Discharge Permit with which the town has to comply.
“There are a couple of different funding options,” said Town Clerk Nancy Robinson. “You can take the money from our reserve account or apply for state funding for a 50/50 grant.”
Road Foreman Randy Kennedy said there is one truck down right now. Kennedy is working on getting prices for Curtis Hollow Road to grind up the tar from the dam to the end of the town line and reshape and repave it.
Kennedy said grading and filling in potholes has begun, although some roads are still wet.
Robinson reviewed an application for the position of town attorney. Applicant Jim Barlow of Plainfield, Vermont, will be asked for an interview in executive session with board members on April 25 at 6 p.m. per agreement with Barlow.
The next Select Board meeting is slated for April 25 at 4:30 p.m.
This article first appeared in the April 13, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.