• Future of Plainfield Town Hall dominates debate
    By Steven Pappas
     | March 07,2012
    Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

    Plainfield resident Lisa Ryan makes a point about options for the Town Hall during town meeting Tuesday, which had to be held in the fire station because the historic Town Hall has been deemed unsafe to occupy.

    PLAINFIELD — The acoustics in the fire station were terrible. If anything, the echo-chamber debate may have made Plainfield residents miss their usual meeting spot, the now-closed Town Hall, all the more.

    During the three hours when more than 100 residents debated town affairs and approved the budget, it was the fate of the historic Town Hall up on Route 2 that continually crept back onto the floor of the meeting to instigate further debate.

    Within the first 45 minutes, the Town Hall, which was closed last summer because of concerns for public safety, emerged as the most divisive discussion of the day. Article 4 asked voters to set aside $15,000 toward a matching grant to make structural repairs and energy-saving improvements to the 1840 structure. At first a request was made to increase the amount to $25,000. A discussion ensued about the work done by the Plainfield Town Hall Advisory Committee established by the Select Board in November. A four-page summary of its report was left on the chair of every voter; a more detailed report was available for perusal.

    Before any financial commitment was to be made, the debate came down to one question: What does the town want to do with Town Hall?

    The commitment came in the form of the $15,000, and nearly two hours later, moments before the meeting was to adjourn, Peter Youngbear, who had served on an earlier Town Hall/Opera House committee decades ago, proposed a motion urging the Select Board to name a Municipal Building Advisory Board. The townspeople agreed the advisory board should further explore options and timelines for the old building — even if it means a recommendation to shutter the building for good.

    The five-member Plainfield Town Hall Advisory Committee had already presented a range of options: repair and improve the Town Hall; move the structure to a new location; use another building; do nothing.

    As one voter noted, “We have to do something. I can’t hear a blessed thing in here.”

    Sandwiched in the middle of those two discussions was an amendment aimed at taking 2 percent of the town’s surplus (available every June 30) and allocating it to a municipal buildings maintenance fund that would be administered at the discretion of the Select Board. (It would be applied to all Plainfield-owned buildings.) Townspeople said they did not want the same fate to befall the municipal building that now houses the town and superintendent’s offices.

    In the wake of recent concerns about the town’s Cemetery Commission, whose treasurer recently resigned, Select Board members briefly discussed a pending audit of the commission. While there were no specifics to be discussed Tuesday, the town leaders said the issue was being taken seriously and would remain under review.

    Voters also approved all articles, including $823,539 for highways, bridges, fire department and administrative operations; $130,820 for the water department; and $201,882 for the wastewater treatment department. Voters also added back $2,500 for the conservation commission that had not made it into the budget or warning as an official request.

    After a brief presentation, voters also accepted Article 11, which called for the undoing of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and restoring limits on corporate campaign spending. The political statement was hardly discussed but was accepted full-throatedly.

    The town honored outgoing Select Board member Gary Graves, as well as Patricia Boyle, who is finishing her term on the school board. Townspeople also remembered Jay Jewett, the chief operator at the water plant, who died this year.

    Notably, high praise was given to town staff in the wake of the May and August storms — the first of which caused considerable damage around town.

    The tax rate will be determined before the first tax bill goes out this summer.

    steven.pappas @timesargus.com

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