(St. Albans Town’s town hall project explained)
By MICHAEL FRETT
For the Town of St. Albans
St. Albans Town voters have less than a week now to cast their Town Meeting Day ballots, where, alongside the typical town meeting fare, voters are asked to finally approve building a new town hall. On their ballots, St. Albans Town voters will find a $4.5 million question asking for voters’ approval to use $2 million in on-hand cash and borrow another $2.5 million to build a new town hall in St. Albans Bay.
Building a new home for the town’s offices has been a long-time goal for officials in St. Albans Town, where several iterations of the town’s Selectboard have discussed either restoring or replacing their historical home in St. Albans Bay for well over a decade. The town’s current offices in St. Albans Bay pose accessibility challenges for some locals and offer little capacity for future expansion. Vault space is tight in its clerk’s office, and a longlist of other concerns, ranging from electricity to parking, has spurred statements that “it’s time” to move on from the old hall.
What led to the push for a new town hall?
Conversations around either restoring or replacing the town’s offices have taken place for years. A facilities study published in 2013 found the building’s second floor to be inaccessible and noted space in the town’s vault was “at capacity” even a decade ago. While that prior study suggested improvements could be made to the St. Albans Town Hall to accommodate the town’s anticipated growth and future development, more recent studies from an appointed infrastructure committee and a hired engineer have recommended the hall’s replacement.
The current town hall is inaccessible for those who have movement disabilities, as many of the town’s offices, including its zoning department and the town manager’s office, sit on a second floor accessible only by a single large staircase.
Vault space in the town clerk’s office, where the town holds land records its required to maintain physical copies of under state law, is also nearing capacity, with room for only another year or two of land records left, according to the town’s current clerk and treasurer.
St. Albans’s current town hall also has electrical, heating and ventilation issues, and little room for additional parking spaces or septic space on the town hall’s current property, making future expansion at the town hall a challenge. “I don’t think we would be going to the voters if we didn’t need a new building,” St. Albans’s Town Clerk Anna Bourdon said in a recent interview. “We desperately need a new building.”
Information about the town hall’s current conditions can be found on St. Albans Town’s website at https://stalbanstown.com/town-hall-relocation-project/.
How will the new town hall address these issues?
According to plans shared by St. Albans officials, the new town hall would be a single-story building with 13,000 square feet of space built on a property along Georgia Shore Road, keeping town offices within the historic St. Albans Bay village area. The building would be handicap accessible, built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and be able to accommodate future expansion should town staff need to expand to meet ongoing development and population growth in St. Albans Town. According to town staff, the proposed town hall should be able to support the town’s staff for at least another 50 years. “This building is one we can take pride in owning, but it doesn’t have many thrills,” St. Albans’s Selectboard chair Brendan Deso said in a recent public letter. “If focuses on needs over wants, which our town has been known for since it was chartered in 1763.”
How is the town funding the new town hall?
While the proposed town hall project comes with a $4.5 million price tag, officials have said the project will have no recognizable impact to property taxes within St. Albans Town.
Around $2 million will be afforded through existing funds, either in the form of revenue from impact fees or from existing and anticipated revenue earned through the town’s local options tax , the voter-approved sales tax currently pulling in around $850,000 every year. The remaining $2.5 million will be funded through a 15-year loan paid for with future revenue from the local options tax, which officials say has remained steady in the past year despite the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession.
What does the move mean for the town’s current town hall?
While there are currently no plans on the part of St. Albans Town for the hall’s future use should voters approve building another town hall this March, officials have said they’d support helping private developers looking to restore the historic town hall for other uses. The St. Albans Town Hall has served as the town’s seat of government since the late 1800s and once doubled as a local schoolhouse. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “There should be a life for this building afterword,” Deso said in a recent interview. “My grandfather went to school here. My emotional attachment to this building is huge… but it doesn’t make sense to keep this building as the center of operations.”
How can I vote on the town hall project this year?
Due to the ongoing prevalence of COVID-19 in Vermont, St. Albans Town officials have opted to take advantage of a new state law allowing towns to mail registered voters their ballots for this upcoming Town Meeting Day elections. Registered voters in St. Albans Town should have already received their ballot with instructions for mailing or delivering filled-out ballots to St. Albans’s town clerk’s office. Dropped-off or mailed-in votes need to be received before the office’s closure on the day before the election. Residents can also vote in person at the town’s polling place in the Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center on Fairfax Road. Polls open on March 2 at 7 a.m. and close that evening at 7 p.m.
More information on St. Albans Town’s Town Meeting Day elections can be found online at https://stalbanstown.com/2021-town-meeting-day/.