Plan for Chester Ambulance reorganization explained; beautification panel proposes restoration of ‘hearse house’

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

At its Wednesday, Sept. 3, meeting, the Chester Select Board looked at a grassroots effort to restore the hearse building at Brookside cemetery,  questions about the application for historic site markers and the restructuring of the Chester Ambulance service

Back in June, the board had heard about the stresses that decreasing volunteerism and increasing training requirements are putting on Chester’s Ambulance service.

Town manager David Pisha. Telegraph file photo.

Town manager David Pisha. Telegraph file photo.

With Ambulance Service coordinator Dan Cook wishing to cut back on hours, the board asked town manager David Pisha to look into the issues of providing ambulance service to the town.

Unfortunately, the Power Point presentation of the situation and options to look at in the future was nearly impossible to read from the floor. Pisha explained that apart from a regional ambulance service, the town could either reorganize the existing service or contract with Golden Cross, a private provider.

He explained that in all of 2013 the Chester Ambulance service responded to 330 calls; as of Wednesday’s meeting, he said, it has responded to 218, which puts it on track for 328 calls in 2014.

The proposed reorganization would involve breaking up the jobs currently done by Cook — including coordinator, officer training, equipment maintenance, supplies, website management and public relations — with two management positions. Under this scenario, the additional cost to the town would be $22,600 per year.

The proposed reorganization would involve breaking up the jobs currently done by Dan Cook with two management positions. Under this scenario, the additional cost to the town would be $22,600 per year.

Pisha presented the Golden Cross alternative as costing $42,000 per six months, but unlike the local service, it would provide no offsetting income from billing patients. In addition, Golden Cross – which covers a number of towns including Grafton – would be responding from either Westminster or Claremont and there would be no guarantee that their ambulances would be available.

Board member Tom Bock, said he was leaning toward the local solution, envisioning a scenario in which a Golden Cross ambulance is called out to Suursoo Road in a snowstorm in which the drive would be more than 60 minutes with the likelihood of walking since the ambulances aren’t four-wheel drive.

Cook agreed noting that Chester Ambulance Service’s average annual response time from the alarm tone to reaching the patient is 8 to 12 minutes.

Select Board members asked a number of questions, but were not prepared to make any decisions that night. Chairman John DeBenedetti said he had trouble seeing the presentation and needed to look at it on paper to understand the money involved.

The hearse house in Chester may be the oldest in the state. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

The hearse house in Chester may be the oldest in the state. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Hearse house restoration

Tory Spater of the Chester Beautification Committee, which is part of the Chester Economic Development Corp., announced that the committee would be planting 2,400 daffodils this fall in front of the Brookside Cemetery on Main Street. In addition, the CEDC and the Preservation Trust of Vermont undertook a condition assessment of the hearse building at the cemetery with an eye toward preserving it. The building – which dates to the 1830s – is a contributing structure in the town’s National Register Historic District and may be the oldest “hearse house” in Vermont, according to Spater.

Clapboards are buckling next to one wall.

Clapboards are buckling next to one wall.

The 22-page report proposed restoring the structure, and PTV has encouraged the Beautification Committee to apply for an Agency of Commerce and Community Development grant to fund the project, which they estimate will cost $30,000 including a 20 percent contingency. The grant application is due on Monday, Oct. 6 and would require a 50 percent ($15,000) match. Spater asked the board for permission to apply for the grant.

Select Board member Derek Suursoo asked if this was a final number, noting that it would commit the town to $15,000. Spater said that the committee intended to raise some of the matching funds but that they do not know how much they will be able to raise. Spater felt that the hearse house would be a tourist draw and that the town’s horse drawn hearse should reside there.

DeBenedetti asked if the building belonged to the town so the town would take on the management of the project and if there was lead paint involved. Several members said that lead paint remediation on this would not be too hard and wondered if it was already in the figures provided by the report.

Bock noted that the town could apply for the grant but would not have to take it if fundraising fell short. Julie Hance – who writes grants for the town – said, “Please don’t apply for grants that you aren’t going to take.” Hance noted that the town’s reputation among grantmakers would be damaged by this.

Suursoo moved to apply for the grant. Chester Historical Society president Ron Patch rose to say that he supports the project and that the society has in its collection the original doors as well as runners for using the hearse in the snow.

It was not known how the addition of the doors would affect the project budget, but it was noted that the match would fall in the 2015 budget. DeBenedetti suggested that the project could be done out of the Chester Economic Development Fund. Suursoo responded that it might be more appropriate to ask Pisha to work it into the capital fund.

Suursoo said he was not willing to vote on his own motion without a final number and abstained while Bock, Jonynas and Lindsay voted to apply for the grant. The board asked for updated figures at its next meeting and DeBenedetti – who generally does not vote unless there is a tie – noted that “if the numbers don’t work on the 17th (of September) we can stop it.

Bock mentioned that the economic development funds are a backup.

Historical markers

Patch then asked what was happening with applying for the state historical marker that was approved by the board at the April 2 meeting. Patch recalled that the board settled on asking the state for a marker for the Academy Building and wondered where that application stood.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin said that the town had not yet applied for a marker when there was state money available earlier this year and in conjunction with the the railroad which has been sprucing up the station for excursions, she had worked with CEDC and architectural historian Hugh Henry to apply for a marker at the depot.

“The next project would be the academy,” said Dakin.

“That’s a little bit of a disappointment,” said Patch, “but now I know.”

Members questioned whether the marker had ever been applied for, but no one seemed to know. “We have to look into this,” said DeBenedetti.

Suursoo asked for an update on the July 28 storm damage and its costs. Pisha said that Potash Brook Road took the brunt of the damage and that Graham Kennedy and his crews are working on it. He noted that Kennedy had been stockpiling materials to use on the Popple Dungeon Road project and these “paid for” materials have been used on Potash Brook Road.

Suursoo pointed out that the Popple Dungeon materials were not “free” but were on hand and “ultimately have to be replaced … “It’s been more than 30 days, it shouldn’t take so long for the governing body to know about it. When big stuff happens, we should know what’s going on. Even if all the facts are not in, we should know … especially in flood damage and stuff like that.”

Watch this

In cooperation with SAPA-TV, The Chester Telegraph is making DVD copies of the Chester Select Board’s meetings available at the Whiting Library, 117 Main St. in Chester. DVDs can be viewed on computers at the library (subject to time limits on use) or borrowed for home viewing.

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