According to selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald, Havreluk was selected from the board’s list of applicants because, as an independent contractor already working for the town, she has experience town hall operations, but her appointment won’t interfere with any key department. “We don’t want to pull someone out of the zoning office with the building season coming up,” said Fitzgerald.
In other matters, the board announced they will not participate in Whitingham’s proposed litigation regarding education funding. At a joint meeting between the two towns in March, the two selectboards agreed to explore litigation over inequities in the distribution of education funding and, in principle, to share expenses and oversight of the effort. But at Wednesday evening’s meeting, Fitzgerald said Whitingham believes their case may be stronger without Wilmington. “Their attorneys advised Whitingham to pursue a legal opinion or litigation on their own,” Fitzgerald said. “They can do more as one single town than by bringing us in, when we have probably the largest development in the state of Vermont going on now.”
Fitzgerald said both towns have left open the possibility that Wilmington may become involved in the suit if it becomes advantageous. And Fitzgerald didn’t discount the idea of sharing in the cost of the lawsuit regardless of whether Wilmington is a named party. “They might look to us to help pay for it, but there has been no suggestion of doing that,” he said. “All Whitingham is doing is asking us to sit back for right now.”
Board members discussed whether Wilmington should pursue its own education funding litigation. Board member John Gannon, participating by phone from Montpelier, said the town could seek a legal opinion. “We could see what our options are, but it might be worth waiting to see what develops in Whitingham. If we’re not happy with their direction, maybe we could choose a different path. But we don’t want to duplicate efforts.”
Board member Ann Manwaring asked whether the town should begin some of the background work for future litigation. “There was two years of work before Brigham,” she noted.
The board also met with Andy Hauty, Wings program director, and Wings program leaders Jobi Dan’Sy, Shelley Park, and Renee Galle, regarding their proposal to create a mulitpurpose space in the basement of Memorial Hall. Wings programs use Memorial Hall during summer months, and the proposed renovation would allow expanded use including, eventually, year-round activity. The flexible design, the group said, would also allow for a wide variation of use by the public, and would bolster the hall’s viability as a venue.
Galle, who designed the proposed interior renovation, said she drew on her own experience renovating a flood-damaged building in a flood-prone area. Although the Memorial Hall basement was cleaned and rehabilitated after the flood, she said it was left in an unfinished state. “It could be used in a better and safer way,” she said.
Galle’s plan includes installation of a portable dance floor that she said could be disassembled and carried upstairs in less than an hour if the town is under threat of flooding. The dance studio, complete with mirrors and dance bars, would also double as space for other community groups. “It could be used as an exercise studio, or rehab,” Galle said. “This is set up for the widest variety of uses.”
Hauty said the plan also includes space for current users of the basement area, including storage space used by the beautification committee and other town committees.
The renovation would also include an upgrade of the changing rooms in the basement, as well as the construction of a “green room” for acts performing at the hall. Galle said providing a basic space for performers while they’re not on stage is critical to attracting quality acts.
The group’s proposal also includes access ramps, new basement windows, doors, a heating and cooling unit, finished walls, and electrical outlets and lighting, as well as the purchase and installation of equipment for the Wings circus arts program upstairs.
The price tag for the basement portion of the renovation was estimated at about $50,444. With a Wings contribution of $4,000, the group’s total need would be about $46,444.
The group said they would seek funding from donors and other sources, but may need additional support from the town. “We can go out and seek funding from donors in the valley, but we’d love to get support from you,” Hauty said. “Help us locate funding and … I don’t know what the town is willing to do.”
Galle said the renovation of the basement was phase one of proposed upgrades for performing arts. The group also has a proposed development proposal for about $100,000 that includes additional upgrades on the main floor. The upgrades include the installation of professional lighting, but Friends of Memorial Hall member Dale Doucette announced that a lighting company he has worked with professionally has donated a lighting system to the town. “So you can whack about $30,000 right off that ($100,000) total,” Hauty said.
“This (basement renovation) is our first goal, but it’s only one step,” said Galle. “We’d like to see something like the Flynn Theater in Burlington, which is used constantly.”
Board members gave the group a tentative go-ahead for the project, allowing them to begin raising money for the work.
Park noted that the town has struggled to encourage use of the hall, and suggested increased activity in the hall from Wings will encourage more public use.
“I feel like a partnership with Wings is a piece of that puzzle,” she said. “You’ll have more people going in there on a regular basis.”
Hauty said Wings’ use of the building would interfere with other uses of the hall as little as possible. He said their plans have been developed with the understanding that they’ll need to share the space.
In a related matter, Doucette also met with board members to request $4,100 in funding from the town’s 1% local option tax fund to help pay for Memorial Hall’s 2017 Songwriter Series performances this summer. Doucette said he has 14 performers lined up “covering all genres of music so we get a lot of people down there.” Doucette also said he has been talking to Duncan Cablevision owner Cliff Duncan about a local access television program for local performers. Fitzgerald noted that Doucette was asking for about $2,000 less in funding from the town than they had the previous year. “We’ve been able to procure money, and we’re trying to save some money. This ($4,100) is the shortfall. This covers it.”
“Well, if it comes in lower,” said Fitzgerald. Board members approved the expenditure unanimously.