Waitsfield has failed in its promise to the community and its promise to the town’s most historic structure, the General Wait House, home of town founder Benjamin Wait.
The failure has been incidental versus intentional, to be fair. In the late 1990s the town partnered with the Waitsfield Historical Society on grants and other fundraising efforts to secure the property and make it usable – within appropriate historical guidelines. Importantly, the property was upgraded to include public restrooms, something that was sorely lacking at the time (and remains sorely lacking for those disinclined to use a port-o-let).
When initially reopened, the compound housed the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce as long-time anchor tenant on the first floor where there was a shared meeting room and kitchen, plus access to the public restrooms. Upstairs a variety of nonprofit community organizations and other tenants filled the spaces. The chamber has moved on and the historical society is using the first floor and tenancy patterns upstairs have changed as well.
Over the years, the town has tried to engage the community in stewardship of the property, creating study committees and having appraisals done. Nothing of significance has come from those efforts.
Most recently, the select board heard from Brad Cook of Building Performance Services who reported that the building needs $91,000 to be maintained/brought up to code. That’s just to fix it and keep it from falling down. Beyond the main building are several outbuildings that are on the verge of collapse.
It’s a tough budget year for all towns and an even tougher school budget year for all of it. No one is keen to spend $91,000 to tread water at a property that needs to be reimagined and reinvented to be better and more attractive to tenants.
But it has to be done. The town and its voters made a commitment to the Wait House and to themselves and each other to take on ownership of this historic property and with that ownership comes responsibilities.
It’s time for a clear-eyed look at this historical treasure with the goal of reaching some agreement on what comes next rather than continue to watch it degrade and deteriorate.