Monkton pitches $1.7M town hall
MONKTON — There’s something charming about the off-balance way that essential stuff persists, stack by stack, in the institutional beige corners of the Monkton Town Office. Red, white and blue binders live on top of copy paper boxes with split cardboard lids. Manila envelopes bow forward from wall-mounted in-boxes. Tiny labels with faded print provide a kind of popcorn trail through a labyrinth of information and records.
The offices have that “loved” look.
Across the street, the Russell Memorial Library, in its polished, make-do way, feels drawn from a Victorian novel — the living room of that delightful, awkward character whose utterances might a century and a half later appear on T-shirts and bumper stickers for bookworms.
But when it comes down to it, for all the services it provides, the library really isn’t much more than a living room itself.
And the 161-year-old Town Hall is obviously not going to last forever.
Which is why town and library officials have for some time now been working on a plan for a new municipal building in the town center, which would host the town offices, the library and several community meeting spaces.
Monkton voters will be asked on Town Meeting Day, March 3, to approve a $1.7 million bond for that project — on a separate ballot from their warned Town Meeting business.
Last week, town and library officials got together with the principals at Bellwether Architects to make their final pitch for that new building, a pitch that has been developed and refined over the last couple of years with significant community input.
The PowerPoint presentation in the Monkton Central School gym on Feb. 11 was well-organized, beautifully illustrated and mercifully concise.
“I didn’t want us as a committee to come up with a design and try to sell it,” said Municipal Building Committee member Peter Straube. “What I’m interested in is really finding out what people will support, (to) find out what they really want, then design that. And that’s pretty much what we’ve tried to do here.”
More space, more light, more flexibility, said the project’s supporters. And it was persuasive.
But nothing in the slide show spoke as starkly about the current reality of both town buildings as did library trustee Jane Low, who stood before an audience of about 40 and said that, among other things, it would be nice for the library to have water that’s safe to drink.
Others have voiced the same modest wish for the Town Office.
The two-story building would be located next to the Friends Methodist Church, which is at 77 Monkton Ridge, and it would be somewhat set back from the road.
One would enter the building’s main floor from the front.
A hallway to the left would lead to the town clerk’s office, other municipal offices or a small public meeting room.
Bathrooms, storage and elevator to the right.
Straight ahead, next to the staircase that would descend to the library, a short hallway would lead to a second public space, the large “community meeting room,” which a light-filled architectural rendering populates with a long conference table and 45 chairs. A great place, for instance, to show movies, said Bellwether’s Chris Huston.
The lower level would host a greatly enlarged library, a third public meeting room, another bathroom and a room for extra records storage.
Current plans also call for a “future buildout” space next to the library, making the building expandable.
“For nighttime events you could sort of compartmentalize in a whole range of different ways,” Huston said. “The town office rooms and suites can be closed off, and you’d still have access to the community room and the restrooms. (Or) you could have a nighttime event in the lower level in the library and have the upper spaces closed off.”
The proposed building would be heated and cooled with air-source heat pumps, with no fossil-fuel backups, and insulation would be maximized.
Though engineers have not yet conducted energy modeling, Municipal Building Committee member Will Bown suggested at the meeting that the annual operating costs of the new (and much larger) building, might be comparable to the current buildings’ operating costs.
Once the bond vote passes, the architects would detail the building to be “net zero ready,” which is defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as “a high-performance (building) which is so energy efficient that a renewable energy system can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption.”
In this case, the renewable energy system would be solar, and the proposed building’s roof would be built to support solar PV panels.
PAYING FOR IT
Monkton residents have approved a $40,000 contribution to the Municipal Building Fund three years in a row, so they have been socking money away for this project for a while now.
Russell Memorial Library has also been fundraising, and is nearly 15% of the way toward its $100,000 goal, Low said.
Town officials have estimated that selling the Town Hall and library buildings could bring in another $116,000.
But this is a $1.7 million project, and Monkton voters have rejected three similar — and smaller — bond proposals over the last decade.
This time it’s different, town officials say — for a number of reasons.
“($1.7 million) seems like a huge amount of money,” said selectboard chair Stephen Pilcher at last week’s presentation. But because of the increased grand list, he pointed out, the “raw tax increase” of 4.6 cents is actually 0.65 cents less than it would have been for the $1.05 million proposal in 2013.
If approved, the project would cost taxpayers $46 annually for every $100,000 of property value.
At the same time, however, taxes are projected to decrease by roughly $20 per $100,000 of property value, after the elimination of the Municipal Building Fund (1.6 cents) and the retirement of the Fire Station debt (0.6 cents).
Above all else, project supporters cite the way the community’s wishes and input have been incorporated into the proposed design.
“It’s been great working with this Building Committee and with this community,” said Bellwether’s Leah McGavern. “We’ve had a lot of discussions — some of them heated — but we’ve really debated a lot of issues. Every time we hear something from you we’ve taken it back to the committee and debated it. There’s a reason why we’re all up here presenting to you tonight, and it’s because we’ve all really kind of come together in this process.”
“We’re community-building to help us build community,” he said. “This is really kind of what our motto has been all along. We need a place for Monkton to be.”
For more information about the project, including the PowerPoint presentation and Northeast Addison Television’s video of last week’s meeting, visit monktonvt.com/building.
Reach Christopher Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.