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Ferrisburgh grange nears completion

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

FERRISBURGH — Late last week painters were coloring the walls on the lower level of the new Grange Hall that will soon serve as Ferrisburgh’s town office building and a community meeting center, while upstairs workers sanded new maple flooring in preparation for finish coating.

Their efforts were sure signs that the roughly $2.8 million project — a historically accurate replica of the 137-year-old Grange Hall that burned in 2005, plus a one-story addition — is nearing completion.

And not only that, said Ferrisburgh resident Silas Towler, who has worked with general contractor Bread Loaf Corp. on the town’s behalf during the project’s planning and construction stages, the long-awaited effort will almost certainly come in on time and on budget.

Towler said there are always things that can go wrong, even at this late date, and construction of the building’s bell tower still lagged behind other elements. But he fully expects residents to view a finished product on June 21, when an open house has been scheduled from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

“I’m going to equivocate only because it ain’t over until it’s over,” Towler said.

About a month after that town-wide preview, Town Clerk Chet Hawkins and Assistant Town Clerk Pam Cousino will pack and head up the quarter-mile north along Route 7 from the existing clerk’s office — a roughly 800-square-foot former one-room schoolhouse — to their new digs, which will offer about 5,900 square feet above ground plus a 2,900-square-foot basement. 

The ground-floor clerk’s office will also feature a meeting room adequate for about 50 people, as well as a much larger vault and two smaller separate offices, as well as one large work space roughly the size of the existing office building.

The second level, which will be accessed from a front porch and an elevator from the ground floor, will have a community meeting space and a stage that together total 1,400 square feet and can hold up to 135 people. It is overlooked by a balcony with room for another few dozen more.

Hawkins said he and Cousino have gotten advice from Rokeby and Shelburne museum experts on how to move sensitive archives, but other details of the mid-July move will be worked out later on.

“About a week in advance, Pam and I will make a plan, and we will move,” Hawkins said. “We are going to take everything with us, and when we get in and settle down, we will see what we need.”

Hawkins said storage units and shelving will be on their wish lists, and almost certainly some desks, chairs and cabinets. But the town will not rush into anything, and he is confident costs of equipping the new space can be kept under control. For example, he said the Chittenden Bank is currently giving away office furniture.

“We’re going to make sure we get things at the best price,” Hawkins said. “And free is our top choice. And we have an advantage, because we’re not in a hurry.”

They will be careful with the details. For example, Cousino and Hawkins don’t want the feet of the town’s aging office chairs to scratch the nice new flooring in the duplicate Grange Hall.

“We’re going to put little booties on the chairs to protect the floor,” Hawkins said.

All say they are happy with the new building, which includes energy-efficient lighting, a small kitchen, an infrastructure that will allow a built-in sound and media system, and a soon-to-be paved parking lot and path to the nearby Ferrisburgh Central School.  

“I haven’t heard a word otherwise,” Towler said. “We’re very pleased with the progress and the quality of the work.”

Hawkins noted that the project (which uses some salvaged original elements, mostly trim pieces, but also some doors and the pressed-tin walls in the ground-floor meeting space) still will cost the town just $350,000 in tax money to build.

Residents originally approved that amount at town meeting in 2004 to renovate the Grange Hall into town offices, a decision that came after more than a decade of debate in Ferrisburgh about how to solve the space crunch at the existing clerk’s office.

The balance has been funded by grants, donations, and a two-part insurance settlement that ultimately totaled about $2 million. The town won the final $900,000 of those funds last summer after a long legal battle with the underwriting firms. 

 With that legal fight over and construction nearly finished, selectmen have been able to focus on simpler issues, like how the Grange can function as a public space while still protecting sensitive town records. They found a mechanical solution to that dilemma — creating a three-key system.

Hawkins said one key will let groups that want to use the meeting space access that, plus the kitchen and bathrooms. A second key will allow access to the selectboard, planning and zoning board meeting space on the lower level, but not town records, and a third will be a full-access master key.

With that problem handled, Hawkins and selectmen can sit back and admire the new office space. 

“You look around, and it all fits tight. We’re pleased. Everything looks nice,” he said. “Now we just have to get the grass to grow.”

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