Chester board discusses moving Yosemite, mulls feasibility study for museum

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A suggestion, by Town Manager David Pisha, that the historic Yosemite Firehouse be moved led to the longest discussion at the Wednesday, Aug. 7 Chester Select Board meeting. At the previous meeting of the board on July 24, Lillian Willis of the Chester Historic Preservation Committee asked the board for $12,000 “immediately”  for a feasibility study that was needed to apply for a state grant.

Last Wednesday, Pisha kicked off the discussion of Willis’ request by saying that he had spoken with preservation architect Mark Wesner who told him that the piers seemed to be in good shape but that the lintel over the sliding doors needs to be replaced. Pisha said they spoke about moving it to lessen the effects of being next to Rt. 103 and Wesner told him they could move it in its current state, then straighten it before fixing the problems with doors and windows. Wesner gave the town a bid of $7,000 to do a study into moving the building, according Pisha, who said the first step would be to run the move by the State of Vermont’s floodplain management people.

Town Manager David Pisha explains the idea of moving the fire station first and then straightening it that he discussed with architect Mark Wesner Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Pisha said state architectural historian Devin Colman told him that if the building remained in roughly the same area, with the same orientation and appearance and farther from the road — but not too far — it would not lose its historical significance or the possibility of grant funding. Pisha’s idea is to move the firehouse farther north along Rt. 103 and east to reduce salt spray and truck vibration and remove the building from the bend in the Williams River behind the current site.

He said Colman told him that “you have very justifiable reasons for moving it and adding life to the building.” Pisha estimated the cost of moving at $30,000 to $50,000.

Willis said that in her discussions with Colman, the building would have to have a short driveway to retain its historical significance. “…no more than 10 feet,” said Willis, noting that the farther the building goes north, the worse the floodplain area gets. “It’s one thing to put a parking lot in the floodplain,” said Willis. “It’s quite another to put the building there.”

“That’s the most incredible waste of taxpayer’s money,” said Willis pointing to the recent work done on the firehouse’s support. She added that its been in the same location since it was built in 1870. “It’s safer there.” She later added, “If you move that building, you’ve wasted $22,000 of taxpayer money. That’s absurd.”

Lillian Willis calls moving the building after spending money on fixing the piers that support it “absurd.”

A discussion followed about the need to build up an area above flood elevation for the building to sit, if it is moved, and whether or not the town could get a permit to protect the building from river erosion. Lister Wanda Purdy asked whether taxpayers would be able to vote on the idea.

Pisha said that taxpayers vote on the budget, and this would be included, but that such a project would not happen this year anyway.

Willis said, “This flipflopping is not conducive to any security or logic on the part of the town.”

Board member Heather Chase agreed, said that before the town spends any money it should have a clear agreement on what it is doing.

Board member Lee Gustafson said he needed to refresh his memory on the decisions to date and asked for a step by step plan with costs to understand what spending makes sense.

“I like the idea of a museum but I’m not seeing a clear way to get there yet,” said Gustafson.

After a discussion of funding sources for the feasibility study, the board decided to continue the discussion at its next meeting with an eye toward giving Willis a definitive answer.

The three bridges

Pisha told the board the Palmer Road bridge off Route 103 has been reduced to a weight capacity of 3 tons, cannot support fuel or fire trucks in its current condition and needs a temporary fix to be done before winter. The nearby Thompson Road bridge is also a problem that is being handled with the use of a temporary bridge rented from the state. But the state limits a town to two temporary bridge rentals — the second one is on Popple Dungeon Road — and Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that she was appealing that limit based on the fact that the town of Chester has 78 bridges to take care of.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance explains the choices for the bridge on Palmer Road

Hance said she is waiting for the answer on a temporary bridge and if one is not available, the town has an estimate of $89,000 to make the bridge passable for the time being.

Hance said that the state had been studying the problem of the three bridges along Rt. 103 for more than 15 years. They will be coming to the board on Aug. 29 with a proposal to build one bridge to replace all three and to pay 80 percent of that project cost, with the town making up the other 20 percent. It will not pay to repair or replace the Palmer Road bridge so if no temporary bridge is available Hance said the town needs to find the money to do the repair before winter.

Maple lumber discount accepted for Town Hall floor

The Select Board agreed to accept an offer from David Waldmann of Vermont Hardwoods to sell the town – at a discount – hard maple flooring for the second floor of Town Hall, which is currently undergoing renovation. Vermont Hardwoods will charge $6,246 for the flooring, a $10,000 discount on the materials.

The project will mean a squeak-free floor but one without the original angled patterns in the corners. Installation quotes range from $21,000 to $32,000, which the board will budget for next year.  Meanwhile, the flooring will be stored on the stage to get acclimated.

In other business

The board appointed Colleen Garvey as a Whiting Library Trustee to serve an unexpired term that ends in March 2020. Garvey recently moved to Chester.

The board voted to sign a loan agreement for $42,000 to participate in an asset management program to map the town’s water system. When the town completes the program, which includes participation by members of the Select Board, the loan will be forgiven.

Gustafson told the board that he had gone to one of the required trainings with Water Superintendent Jeff Holden and they found that by comparison, Chester’s water is considered inexpensive.

Gustafson also said that he was “impressed with what Jeff has done to move it along and very impressed with what Jeff does.”

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    The Fire House is significant architecturally and has such great potential to benefit the town in many ways including generating rent. At some point people need to make decisions that will leave some folks unhappy you can’t please everyone. So much nothing happens trying to please everyone. If it were Pinske Land I’d buy the hay field at a fair price, get a permit the grade change in the flood zone within the law which can be done with mitigation. I’d put in a one floor elevator and self tour fire museum on second floor. First floor I’d use for a hot shop and gallery where people can watch glass blowing working with an artist or with RISD students who are getting started in their own business. The store rental even low would pay off the whole project in time. I would turn the field into a sculpture park, a place with a shelter roof and perhaps a dog park. We need to be able to think long term reward. Plus with the right people and plan we could raise a lot of dough from the public. I’m certain I could get $100k – $300k raised in a few years with help from a few friends who know how to raise money. Grants and donations could cover many costs. Bennington is doing a 56 million dollar renovation , Bratt just did 26 million we can’t fix and utilize one an amazing building? We are a small town but come on when some one tosses us a ball does it have to hit us in the face? We all should be a bit embarrassed over this it’s been going on for years it’s going to continue nickel and dime us until we get a good plan.

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Hi Chris,

    Yosemite Firehouse is a historic, one-of-a-kind gem that even state historians are thrilled about preserving. And it belongs to the town of Chester.

    As stewards of all that it owns, it is important for the town to take care of all its properties: the roadways, Town Hall, the Whiting Library, the Academy Building, Cobleigh Field, the Pinnacle, the Green, the cemeteries, the Hearse House. And it needs to find the best and most appropriate use.

    Not every property serves every resident. However, we are lucky here in Chester to have a wide array of interesting properties and pieces of land in which most residents can find one that they can make use of.

    Yosemite has a lot to teach us about firefighting history in Chester and the United States and how small town America grew in the 1800s and 1900s. It is also filled with stories of the men and women who made Chester what it is today. And that is important and something to preserve and share.

  3. Chris Walker says:

    The discussion and planning that has already taken place on the Yosemite Fire station is excessive why not just document everything and tear it down? It hasn’t provided anything significant to the town in forever. Except as a topic on how to waste money. Why spend more on something that only benefits very few?