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‘The choice will impact the town over several generations’
By Bob Burley
The Waitsfield Town Office Task Force (TOTF) has worked diligently and has narrowed their alternatives to two very different concepts: either (1) an entirely new building on the open Farm Stand site or (2) the adaptation of an existing building, the historic 1893 Methodist Church. A public forum on December 11 will encourage opinions and discussion. It is a critical choice that will have major impact on the town over several generations.
Because the two choices are so different – and so dependent on our community sense of values – a decision should not be made by just “doing the numbers.” For example, the estimate that the church project will cost substantially more than a new building is not necessarily the case. The actual purchase price of the property has yet to be negotiated with the owner and while the church building contains more interior space than is actually needed and it would be ideal to adapt the entire building at one time, future expansion into that space could be phased resulting in a lower initial cost. In other words, the project cost for the church can go down and the numbers will change.
It is not easy to “implant” a new building in a historic district in a manner that is both fresh and contemporary and also fits comfortably into its traditional surroundings. So we are fortunate to have an existing historic building that is adaptable for town office use and is available for purchase – a common sense practice in dozens of rural villages in Vermont.
The structure already contains sufficient space for both current and future needs. It has a scale and presence that is appropriate for an important civic function and has retained its significant architectural features: the bell tower, the striking geometry of the slate roofs and its original windows and details. Its location is especially important, next to the Valley Players Theater and set back a respectful distance from Main Street. It is close to the village center, Bridge Street and the library. The tree-lined area between the church and the theater is the ideal location for a new street connecting Main Street to the Flemer barn property with access to shared parking. This street, with town offices and the theater at the corner, will become a key element of our village plan.
I began attending the TOTF meetings over a year ago, so I have followed and commented on their progress fairly closely. They need and welcome public participation and support. The 1893 church is a major contributing building to Waitsfield’s National Register Historic District. The building and the village will benefit from its better use and long-term stewardship.
Burley lives in Waitsfield.