What's Happening Around Town

Pownal Moves Forward with Town Hall Proposal - (Will be Sent to Voters)

POWNAL - After months of back and forth, a town hall project is moving forward.

At its meeting Thursday, the Select Board unanimously voted to move ahead with a proposal from Messina Builders and Pauline Guntlow for a new town hall. The project involves moving a circa-1840s schoolhouse on North Pownal Road to town-owned property on Center Street. Modular construction would be used for the town's core offices, and the attached schoolhouse would be used for Select Board meetings and a Pownal History Center.

That proposal was one of five responses the town received to a Request for Proposals by the Feb. 11 response deadline. All the responding firms are from Vermont: Dewey & Associates of Londonderry, Goldstone Architecture of Bennington, LineSync Architecture of Wilmington, Kravit Architects of Pawlet and Messina Builders of Pownal, in conjunction with Guntlow, a member of the Pownal Historical Society board.

The RFP had a cost ceiling of $750,000; only the Messina Builders/Guntlow proposal said the project could be built for that amount or less, Town Administrator Michael Walker previously said.

Walker could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bryan Harris, chairman of the board, opened the discussion by saying he hoped the board was ready to make a decision.

At the request of board member Bob Jarvis, all five board members put their top choices in order on sticky notes.

"In my mind, all five options are on the table," Jarvis said.

Before listing their top two options, multiple board members expressed certainty in their choices.

"I don't need to discuss anymore," said Marlena Pellon.

"I know which one I'm voting for," Jarvis said. He added that the board needed to consider which option is more likely to pass with the voters.

"In my view, one of these proposals has the highest probability of success at the ballot box, and the others don't," he said. "We've missed the mark a couple of times."

The board did not further discuss presenting the issue to voters at the meeting.

Pownal previously considered building a new town hall on Center Street property it purchased in 2006 for $60,000, where the Bartels Lodge used to be.

But taxpayers rejected that $911,100 ballot question during the 2017 town meeting in a vote of 329-214, the Banner previously reported.

Three of the sticky notes identified the Guntlow-Messina proposal as the top choice.

Jarvis made the motion the board move forward with that proposal; the vote was unanimous in favor.

"I would like to have made that decision last week, or two weeks ago," Harris said after the vote. "But we made it."

When reached Friday, Guntlow said she'd found out about the decision from a friend who had watched the board meeting on TV.

"We were just very hopeful," Guntlow said when asked if she had expected the decision. "It just seemed like it was so important to save the schoolhouse. And we could meet the price point that the Select Board had wanted us to. And it can be efficiently done, in a timely way. And we had a lot of support from town people."

Guntlow, a designer and general contractor, plans to act as project manager for the town hall project.

Pownal has been trying to replace its cramped, aging town hall for about 20 years.

Last December, the prior Select Board unanimously voted to seek proposals for a new town office building, which included three possible construction methods - the historical society's plan, a modular-only build and a non-modular, or "stick-built" version. Because of a Nov. 6, 2018 town vote to support the Pownal Historical Society's proposal for a new town hall, the RFP had to include that plan.

The Pownal Historical Society held an informational meeting on their plans in October, where they presented plans for designs for the 3,848 square foot town hall, including spaces for town offices, storage rooms, a basement and a storage vault for town records. The project would also have an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant bathroom.

"I'm really pleased," Guntlow said. "I think it's just the right project for this town. It will fit in so well in keeping with the historic district in the center of town."

And, she added, the town obviously needs a new town hall "desperately."

The historical society now owns the schoolhouse they would use for the project, as the Pownal School District board voted at their June 19 meeting to give the schoolhouse's quitclaim deed to the historical society, ensuring the property remains under local control.

In regards to a timeline for the project, Guntlow said, it all depends on how quickly the Select Board can get the issue before the voters.

"You don't do capital improvements like [this] without the citizens supporting it," she said.

Getting the project together is simplified, because it's not a stick-built effort - it involves partially modular construction and an existing building, she said.

Joyce Held, treasurer of the Pownal Historical Society, said in an email that she looks forward to working with the board and the residents of Pownal to create a new town hall that will work well for the town employees, as well as the town residents.

"We thank everyone for their support," she said.

In the prior Select Board's final meeting before town elections in March, Walker raised concerns about the Messina Builders proposal, specifically about it not meeting certain criteria.

At a later meeting, Guntlow read a lengthy statement responding to Walker's concerns.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.

Patricia LeBoeuf - Bennington Banner

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