For a reporter, it’s pretty exciting to attend a town meeting where every chair is taken and everyone present has an opinion about the topic at hand.
That’s what happened this week when the Waitsfield Town Office Task Force held a public forum to hear opinions about where the town should build its new town offices.
The room was filled and people were standing along the bleachers at the back of the Waitsfield Elementary School gym, listening and waiting for their turn to speak.
It was a stark contrast from most select board or planning commission meetings, or even meetings where people have been asked to come give their opinions, i.e., on changes to a Town Plan or zoning ordinance.
Those who attended this week’s meeting have strong feelings about whether the town should build its offices from scratch at the Flemer Farm Stand or whether the old Methodist Church should be renovated for the town offices.
Some are passionately in favor of saving a historic building that is in disrepair. Others are in favor of saving money by building a new building and are passionate about saving the taxpayers some money.
A glance around the room revealed that it wasn’t only Waitsfield residents who attended the meeting. This topic, for whatever reason, has galvanized public interest in The Valley, and people from one end of The Valley to the other are interested in the outcome of this decision.
The people who spoke did so with passion and with respect. They listened politely as the task force members explained the process of how the two sites had been selected and how the cost estimates for the two sites had been calculated. Then their hands shot up and the questions began and never ended until three hours later.
The questioners raised good points, brought new ideas to the table and asked valid questions of the task force. The task force members heard and responded to the questions with skill and equanimity.
Ultimately, the task force will make a recommendation to the select board, which will bring it to voters, and when that happens, no one will be able to argue that this was not a well thought out or well discussed project nor that public participation was lacking.
It’s exciting that so many people care so deeply about this.