Chester town manager to retire; Select Board OKs Yosemite feasibility study funds

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

After 11 years, David Pisha will step down at Town Meeting next March. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Chester Select Board Chair Arne Jonynas announced that Town Manager David Pisha will retire effective at Town Meeting March 3, 2020. Jonynas praised Pisha saying that he came on board in August 2008 with the town’s finances “in shambles” and that he had retired a $500,000 deficit in one year. Jonynas said that there would be a formal goodbye next year.

Asked what his plans are, Pisha said he and his wife have not decided whether to move back to Asheville, N.C., where they still have a home, to stay in Vermont or perhaps move the the coastal town of New Bern, N.C.

At the first select board meeting of September, a representative of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns will attend to talk about conducting a search for a new town manager.

Yosemite Firehouse

Julie Hance, right, explains the historic preservation grant process.

After another lengthy discussion that included board member Lee Gustafson’s questions about the costs of setting up and operating a fire museum in the building, the board voted 3-2 to use $12,000 from the “historic building maintenance” budget line to fund a study. The study will look at the feasibility of operating a museum in the building and identify the needs for amenities like parking, bathrooms and other spaces.

Historic Buildings Committee chair Lillian Willis had asked for the money a few weeks ago as a prerequisite for applying for a grant from the State of Vermont. The $20,000 grant, which must be matched by $20,000 from the town, would be used to right the building and perform other restoration work.

Board member Lee Gustafson questions the business plan for the proposed fire museum

Hance told the board that the state needed to see the intent to have the building open year-round and open to the public to give priority to the funding. On the downside, if the state funds this grant, the town must skip a year before it can apply for funding to fix the Academy Building roof.

Gustafson said he had not seen a business plan and wondered if the museum would be a “money maker” or if the town would have to support it. He said he agreed with the idea of the museum, but he was not seeing the long-term implications for the town and not seeing the plan to get there.

Jonynas also questioned whether it was appropriate to spend “maintenance” funds on a study especially when they had just seen the needs of the Academy Building. See below.

When Willis first approached the board, Jonynas had said that such a request needed to wait until next year’s budget. Both he and Gustafson voted against using the funds.

EMS building schedule focuses on November

Pisha told the board that the design-build firm of Russell Construction should have the plans for the proposed new EMS building priced out by Sept. 9. Once there is an estimated cost for the project, the town will produce a mailer to send to the public explaining the need for the new building, work to be done on the town garage and announcing two public meetings to be held in September and October.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance explained that the town was shooting for a bond vote by mid-November because bidding the job in the winter is expected to get better results and construction could begin in the spring.

Church Street drivers; info booth pumping; Academy Building future

Pisha told the board that the Police Department has been having an officer on each shift spend an hour on Church Street monitoring speeds and giving out tickets as necessary. He said that data from the new radar sign has shown that speeding is not as pervasive as people believe from casual observation.

Jonynas said he thought the placement of that sign on the uphill lane of the north side of Church Street may not be getting the speeding that residents have reported.

Select board members visit the Academy Building taking note of problems like the roof leak damage at the top of the stairs.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jeff Holden told the board that the preferred option for hooking the information booth to town sewer would be for a pump to move the sewage. Jonynas said there’s a really good chance that excavating for the line would compromise the old maple tree on the Academy Building lawn and wondered —  if that were the case — whether going with the low tech gravity solution makes sense.

The existing tank has been pumped nine times so far this season and the board asked if it was necessary to have a sign out front announcing the rest room’s presence. Hance said she opens and closes the booth each day and could simply stop putting out the sign in the hopes of reducing the number of pumpings for the rest of the season.

Holden said he had enough projects for this summer. The board will look at the options again in the future.

With the Chester Historical Society’s lease on the Academy Building coming to an end next year, the Select Board took a tour of the building to get a sense of its current and possible future uses. Society member Harry Goodell showed the board around the 1881 structure, noting a number of issues including roof leakage.

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  1. Steve Mancuso says:

    I’m a tad tired of all this tourist tunnel vision. When it comes to my tax dime, visitors come second, residents come first. Sidewalks and museums are nice, but take a back seat to critical infrastructure needs. The elementary school debacle being a perfect example of our priorities being askew