Long meeting on Yosemite, Academy and fire buildings, but little action by Chester Select Board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a busy, three and a half hour meeting, the Chester Select Board again took no action in examining the Academy Building lease or the transfer of the Yosemite Firehouse, set aside the conflict of interest policies for future discussion, reduced the scope of the sidewalk project due to bids that exceeded the budget and discussed the highway department’s suggestion for paving the Mountain View neighborhood before deciding that it was up to the department to manage its own budget and work.

The board also set aside a discussion of a new emergency services building and put off discussion of a proposal to “throw up” (privatize) 400 feet of Class 3 road that crosses private property and ends in the dooryard of that property owner until the board can tour the property.

 Future of Academy Building, Yosemite Firehouse

Historical Society President Ron Patch decries the

Historical Society President Ron Patch defends the organization’s lease of the Academy Building. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Although board member Dan Cote had asked for the topic to be dropped from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, it was decided to go ahead with discussing the Chester Historical Society’s lease of the Academy Building just before talking about the society’s offer of the Yosemite Firehouse to the town.

Board member Heather Chase said that her issue was maintenance and asked that when the lease comes up for renewal in 2020, the review begins earlier than later.

Board member Arne Jonynas said he had no issues with the lease and board chair John DeBenedetti said that considering his long relationship with the historical society, he would have to recuse himself.

Chase suggested that the lease could be lengthened if they came up with a definition of responsibility for maintenance and maintenance reporting.

Chester resident Frank Bidwell asked if the town had received proof of liability insurance or an annual maintenance report as required by the lease and Executive Assistant Julie Hance said no.

“This is Chester, this is a historical society,” said Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch, who told the board that things have been done on a less formal basis so the efforts of the society could go into its programs. Patch told the meeting that he’s worked with two town managers and 12 to 15 select board members with no difficulties or favoritism since taking office.

“Since Heather and Dan have come on the board, there’s been difficulty,” said Patch, adding that the society has considered moving “its stuff into Yosemite and get away from you people. I can’t believe you people don’t care.” Patch told the board that in an upcoming meeting, the board of the historical society would discuss rescinding its offer of the firehouse to the town.

Board member Ben Whalen asked if it was possible, by December when the lease calls for it, for the society to have the insurance and maintenance report delivered to the town.

Both Chase and Cote said they do not want the society out of the building, but are looking out for the town and the building. While members asked the chair to move on, DeBenedetti did not respond.

Scott Newman of Preservation Trust Vermont tells the board that PTV is willing to 'go the extra mile' for the Yosemite Firehouse.

Scott Newman of Preservation Trust Vermont tells the board that PTV is willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for the Yosemite Firehouse.

Turning to the firehouse, the board had already heard – during old business – that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had quoted an additional $300 in premiums for putting the building on the town’s insurance. This would not include the contents. Pisha also told the board that the town attorney was conducting a title search on the building, which was characterized as very complicated. Pisha also told the board that he had “made a call” regarding grants, but had not gotten a call back.

Cote handed out a suggested approach to forming a committee to work on details and finances for the firehouse, then introduced Scott Newman of Preservation Trust of Vermont. Newman said that, as a firefighter for 25 years and a fire chief for 10, he appreciated the significance of the building and was envious that Chester has such a resource.

Newman told the board that he was speaking for PTV Executive Director Paul Bruhn in extending the group’s assistance in securing grant funding and putting together a structure for running the building. “My boss has said to go the extra mile for this project,” said Newman.

Listing a number of grants including the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation, the Vermont Arts Council, USDA Rural Development and Community Development Block Grants, Newman said he thought the project could have “pretty good success in attracting grant funds.”

DeBenedetti expressed concern that applying for grants for the firehouse would take away from grant applications for other town projects including the work on Town Hall.

Lillian Willis presented the board with a petition signed by more than 200 people asking the town to “swiftly accept” the offer of the Yosemite Firehouse. Willis said that the only objection to the petition was made by a person who signed it but said that the town also needed a new emergency services building.

Whalen asked Patch if he could postpone the question of rescinding the offer for two weeks and Patch agreed and then said “July.”

Proposed emergency services building

Fire Chief Matt Wilson comes before the board to again ask for action toward a new emergency services building.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson comes before the board to again ask for action toward a new emergency services building.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson told the board that he, Pisha and Jonynas had visited the new Castleton emergency services building and noted that it was well-designed. Wilson, who for years has been looking to move his agency out of the current structure, said the building’s stick construction saved money while Jonynas said it was simple, functional and attractive without a lot of bells and whistles. Wilson told the board that he felt that it was time that this go before the voters.

Chase told Wilson that she would like to see more plans before taking it to a vote. Wilson noted that the discussion and research into buildings has been going on for years. DeBenedetti asked Pisha to make arrangements for him to see the building and brought the discussion to a close saying that this should be  warned on a future agenda.

Sidewalks, paving and throwing up a road

Pisha told the board that the lowest bid for the sidewalk project had come in $45,000 over the $323,000 budget, which is four years old. He explained that the town cannot accept the low bid without coming up with more money or downsizing the project. Discussions with the low bidder concluded that the budget number could be arrived at by not doing the sidewalk work on Grafton Street and the board decided that this was the best solution.

    • Highway superintendent Graham Kennedy suggested that the town use funds earmarked for salt and sand to do a paving overlay in the Mountain View neighborhood where the streets are “very rough.” Kennedy said that a base coat was laid in 1990 but the project was never finished. The installation of storm drains is four to five years off and putting down a 1-inch overlay would make the surface “nice” for two to three years. Kennedy proposed to pay for this by not spending approximately $48,000 to buy salt and sand since the department has enough to take care of this fiscal year left over from the mild winter.  The board questioned whether this should be done by bids or to allow Kennedy to get the best deal he could to do the most paving with the available funds.Mountain View resident Cindy Collins told the board the town “needs to get busy with this” and the board decided to allow Kennedy to go ahead without a vote.


    • Highway Super Graham Kennedy and Quarry Road resident Carlo Kapp tell the board Kapp wants to own the end of Quarry Road, which is on his property.

      Highway Super Graham Kennedy and Quarry Road resident Carlo Kapp tell the board Kapp wants to own the end of Quarry Road, which is on his property.

      Describing it as a win/win for everyone, Kennedy brought forward a proposal to give Quarry Road landowner Carlo Kapp 400 feet of Class 3 road that crosses Kapp’s property and dead ends in his dooryard. Until now, the town has maintained the road, which Kennedy describes as a driveway,  with some difficulty as it can be hard to turn large equipment around there. In the future, Kapp would maintain that portion of the road and it would be added to the grand list.“I have a hard time giving up land that belongs to the town,” said Jonynas. DeBenedetti asked  if Kennedy was available next week to take members up there. “You go up the (Quarry) road to the end, and then you come back,” replied Kennedy.


  •  During public comment, Frank Bidwell again raised questions about the adequacy of the town’s website, noting that problems he has brought to the board in the past have not been addressed.  In the past Bidwell has noted that the calendar is not up to date or contains meetings that do not take place. On Wednesday, he pointed to DRB minutes that have not been kept up to date. “The only thing worse than not having a website,” said Bidwell, “is having a bad one. Someone looking at (the town’s site) sees slack.”
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