Chester board begins mulling Yosemite future Quarry Road resident posts warnings along public way

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Yosemite Firehouse. Chester Telegraph file photo.

With the ownership of the Yosemite Fire House finally settled with the Town of Chester, the Select Board turned, at its May 16 meeting, to the question of what to do with the 135-year-old structure.

Town Manager David Pisha introduced the topic by noting that the physical shift in the building seems to be caused by the lack of sufficient footings for the piers that support a small, two-story addition at the rear of the main structure. Pisha said that the town would be working at correcting the situation later this year.

Lillian Willis of the Chester Historic Preservation Committee — an unofficial group that concerns itself with the welfare of historic structures owned by the town — appeared before the board to report on the group’s findings. Willis gave a short slide show of two fire museums — in Vermont and Peterborough, N.H., noting that there is not a lot of competition in the area and saying that the committee thought  the best use of the building would be as a museum of firefighting.

Historic Buildings Committee chair Lillian Willis pitches a vision of the Yosemite Fire House as a museum of firefighting. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Willis told the board that in her research she had learned that the second floor of the building could be used by the public without handicap accessibility – like an elevator – as long as a “like experience” could be provided. This could include a brochure or video presentation of the second floor exhibits. “It would be a big plus for Chester,” said Willis noting that the Chester Fire Department and former fire chiefs support the idea.

According to Willis, the next steps would be for the Select Board to approve the use as a museum, for more structural analysis and a flood elevation survey to be done. The latter is to see how much fill would be needed to construct a parking lot north of the building. Willis also said a tax exempt organization would need to be filed, that the fire house should be listed on the National Register of Historic places, that a “man door” would need to be cut in the sliding doors at the south end, a search would be needed for memorabilia and equipment and a secure place to store them would be needed.

Willis said that once the decision to make the fire house into a museum was made, fundraising could begin.

The seldom seen second floor of the Yosemite building during an inventory in 2015

Saying that Willis had just given the board “a lot of information,” board chair Arne Jonynas thanked her and called the building a great asset for the town that he would hate to see fall into disrepair.

Board member Lee Gustafson asked what the steps are to “get from where we are now to a museum that’s open to the public.”

Gustafson also asked if there was a “punchlist” of items and who would be responsible for each of those items.

Willis said that the committee was willing to take on the responsibility, but only if the board’s choice is for the building to be a museum.

Board members also questioned what impact listing the building on the National Register of Historic Places would have and if that would limit what the town could do with it or mandate what must be done. While Willis maintained that it would have no effect, the town has maintained that being on the National Register required more expensive treatments for  rehabilitation of the Academy Building and has, in the past, resisted listing the Town Hall for that reason. Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that unlike Town Hall, the fire house would be treated as a historic building and for that, the listing would be appropriate.

On Friday, Devin Colman, Vermont’s Architectural Historian, told The Telegraph that a listing on the National Register is “an honorific” that does not restrict the owner of the property from using, altering or even demolishing it. Colman added that the idea that the listing comes with restrictions is a common misconception.

Colman, who works on National Register issues for Vermont, said that restrictions  enter into the equation when there is “state or federal funding or licenses and permits” involved.

The consensus of the board was for the town to apply for National Register status and do the flood elevation survey before going forward with a decision on a museum.

Quarry Road kerfuffle

Highway Superintendent Graham Kennedy and Quarry Road homeowner Carlo Kapp in June 2016, asking the board to discontinue the portion of the road that’s surrounded by Kapp’s property.

In August 2016, at the request of Quarry Road landowner Carlo Kapp, the Select Board discontinued 800 feet of the road thatch was – in effect – Kapp’s driveway. This allowed Kapp to put up a gate and freed the town from the responsibility of plowing and maintaining that part of the road.

Last Wednesday, board member Heather Chase told the board that there are now signs on Quarry Road – well before Kapp’s gate – warning drivers away. One sign says “Dead End Private Property No Trespassing” while a second sign warns that the road is a dead end and that “These premises protected by video surveillance.”

The tree on which the signs are nailed is about the four-tenths of a mile (more than 2,000 feet) from the gate where the discontinued road begins. That portion of the road remains a public right of way.

The ‘Dead End, No Trespassing’ sign on Quarry Road

Board members were concerned that people who were driving on the public road might think they had to turn around immediately where there are no driveways. There is a large turnaround in front of the gate which is used by Chester plow trucks in the winter.

Pisha said he was aware of the signs, and that while Kapp is out of town, his groundskeeper is expected to visit Town Hall on Monday.

Jonynas, who was the lone no vote in discontinuing the road and is on record voicing his displeasure with large tracts of previously open land being posted, called the situation “ridiculous.”

“It just destroys the spirit of what we tried to do,” said board member Dan Cote.

At the meeting when the board voted on the road change last year, Jonynas told the board, “I don’t see what we’re getting out of it other than a little savings in maintenance and a little trouble saved from (not) plowing … but it’s changing the character of the town.”

A meeting on replacing doctor with dentist

Board member Chase suggested that someone from Springfield Medical Care Systems come to a board meeting to explain the process behind the decision to move medical practitioners out of the Ellsworth Building in favor of more dentists.

Chase said that they declined to speak in an open meeting but that she and Jonynas would visit the hospital last Thursday, where she would “express my profound disappointment with their process.” Gustafson and board member Ben Whalen said they understood her point but were uncomfortable telling someone how to run their business.

Chase said the pair will report back at the next meeting on June 6.

Also on June 6, town attorney Jim Carroll will be on hand to talk about the salvage yard ordinance.

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    I hope there is some planning that goes into the use of the Yosemite Fire House.

    A museum may or may not be the best use for it and its current location may come into question.

    It’s right on the road access is not very safe. Let’s keep in mind the building belongs to the town of Chester.

    It has not become the property of the Historic Preservation Committee nor should they automatically take the lead. I say that with all due respect for the group and their past successes they are top notch. There is a great opportunity here for the highest and best use for the building and for the greatest potential fund raising possibility.

    I think we should continue to move slowly and inclusively perhaps with a special steering committee and public input. Museums take people power and don’t often generate revenue, which creates sustainability issues. Some form of demonstration type of business like a potter or glassblower along with the history museum could be a more sustainable approach. If the building could be placed somewhere with parking something as simple as an ice cream shop would be nice for our town also.