For years Castleton’s town offices were located in a historic red brick building in the heart of the village. But mold problems and other safety concerns forced the town offices and police department upstairs to move into temporary quarters last year. Local residents remain split over whether to build a new town office or restore the old one and they’ll vote on the issue again Tuesday.
Last March, voters overwhelmingly said no to spending $2 million on a new town hall and fire station about a mile west of the village center. This go round, they’ll vote on whether or not to spend about half that to remove mold and renovate the old town office.
"We should definitely be back in this historic building," says Holly Hitchcock, President of the Castleton Historical Society. "Not only is the main street a national registered district and Castleton renowned for its fabulous architecture" she says, "but this is a fabulous building. If we put a little money into it, it will last forever."
Castleton voters will be asked whether or not to approve two bonds totaling not more than $1.2 million. If they’re approved, Hitchcock says the town can access $240,000 that’s been promised from the Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation, which her late aunt founded. Hitchcock says those funds would offset taxpayer spending on the project.
She says keeping the town offices in the historic village would also fight sprawl. "They were determined to build a new concrete box outside of town last March which does nothing but suck the heart out of the center of town." Hitchcock says "we voted that down resoundingly and it’s like they’re just not listening."
But Jim Leamy, a member of the Castleton Select Board says spending $1 million on a building that doesn’t meet all their needs is a mistake. "It is our feeling that this is not the best option for the future of the community," he says.
Leamy says Castleton not only needs a town office, but offices for its police department and a new fire station as well.
He says addressing all those functions separately will cost the town more and he feels like local residents are not getting their money’s worth with the proposed renovations. "It would only renovate the first and second floor," he says. "It would not deal at all with the basement or the attic or roof. There’s no room for expansion because of limitations on the lot." Leamy says, "It would continue to fragment the municipal services that are provided in the town."
Castleton Town Manager Charles Jacien says the old building would provide the town and the police with adequate space. But for a town that’s growing, he says it doesn’t give them any flexibility. "With a new building we would have adequate space for expansion to include fire and the ambulance and emergency services." Jacien adds "we’d have adequate parking; it would be more energy efficient, handicap accessible on all levels. So for those reasons," he says, "looking at the needs of the town now and well in the future – our select board has taken a position that it is against these two bond warnings and against putting any money into that building."
Castleton resident Jim Perry says he hopes voters will approve the restoration bonds as he likes having the town offices in the central village. While he agrees the fire department needs a new home, he says that issue can be raised separately at another time.