POWNAL, Vt. -- Most people who attended an informational meeting Wednesday on the condition of Bartels Lodge were in favor of tearing the building down.
The town bought the lodge seven years ago for $60,000 with the idea of using it or the land as a new town office. A debate over what to do with it has become heated in the past year, with Select Board Chairman Stephen Kauppi pushing for its removal.
The meeting was scheduled by the board to inform the public about the lodge. The board had no intention of taking action at Wednesday's public meeting, but an informal show of hands from the 60 to 70 people present was overwhelmingly in favor of the lodge's removal.
Frank Lamb, chairman of the Town Office Committee, said the group was first formed in 1993 to deal with the tight space town officials have to work in at the nearby town offices on Center Street. He said many ideas were thrown around, but everything stopped when the town-wide sewer project was undertaken. After that, the lodge was purchased from William Bartels, and a design firm was hired to come up with restoration plans.
Kauppi said all those plans were deemed too expensive, even after the firm came back with more options. Options ranged from a high of $4.5 million to $3.5 million on the low end.
According to Kauppi, the board will not spend more than $13,000 on removing hazardous material from the building and no more than $18,500 on tearing down the
He said $100,000 is in a fund to go toward expenses for a new town hall. Kauppi said he fears the building is a safety hazard and is costing the town on insurance.
Board member Dale Palmer said he doesn't see a business buying the building as a viable option, as he believes it would cost nearly $700,000 or more to bring it up to code. He said it will serve the town better to take it down.
"That place was a wreck back 20 years ago," said board member Mike George. He said the land will still be scenic without the building.
"If we wait much longer we won't have to worry about tearing it down, it will come down by itself," he said.
Board member Nelson Brownell said talk of the lodge has become a distraction from the real problem, which is lack of a town hall. He said the plans that were put forward included many things that were not needed and unaffordable. He said what should have happened was paring the options down to something affordable, then seeking funding.
"We chose not to do that and got into a conversation about how to tear down Bartels," he said.
Resident Frank Giorandino said the board should work with the Vermont Preservation Trust to seek options on the lodge. The trust is a nonprofit that would but a lease option agreement on the lodge then find a developer or other entity to sell it to who could rehabilitate it.
Kauppi has said the board is not interested in giving up the property as it lies at the end of Center Street and would be contiguous with other town-owned land.
Brownell said the town would still have the option of saying no to whatever buyers the trust lined up. He also said the land has room for two buildings, as one used to be there with the lodge but burned down. That fire also damaged the lodge before it was bought by the town.
Many residents who spoke were in favor of removing the lodge and others did not appear warm to the original purchase.
Eve Pearce, a proponent of restoring the lodge, took issue with Kauppi's cost estimates, saying that Black River Design's demolition estimates were closer to the truth. She said she had spoke to them and they gave her revised estimates in the range of $47,000 to $87,000.
"I think any estimates should be carefully examined," she said.
She said tearing down a historical building would also make it ineligible for any form of state and federal grants, disagreeing with a comment Kauppi made earlier about there being other grant options besides ones historical in nature.