Dunbarton votes to renovate town hall community space, take out roads bond

  • Outgoing Dunbarton selectman Robert Martel (left) and police officer Joe Milioto take in ballots before the end of voting and before the start of the town meeting on Tuesday evening, March 8, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Outgoing Dunbarton selectman Robert Martel (left), selectman Michael Kaminski (center) and police officer Joe Milioto move the ballot box before the end of voting and before the start of the meeting. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Dunbarton moderator John Trottier explains to residents that they need to get a purple card for voting during the crossover between the end of voting and the start of the town meeting. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/9/2022 4:34:34 PM

At Dunbarton’s annual town meeting Tuesday night, residents packed in together on folding chairs and bleachers in what is currently the town’s only community gathering space – the elementary school gymnasium.

The matter at hand was another venue: the second floor of the town hall library building gone unused for 32 years, which if restored would offer the town another space for performances, events and meetings that seats 250, according to advocates.

“It is beautiful, physically and aesthetically,” said Dunbarton resident Peggy Senter, who described the space as a wide, all-wood rectangle with a stage at one end, excellent acoustics and large windows that let in natural light and frame a western sunset. “It’s a space that is very much needed, and unusual to have in this area.”

Voters deliberated for an hour before ultimately agreeing to renovate the space at a cost of $697,485, though some critics said the money could be better spent updating other town buildings. The project will involve making the second floor of the 1909 building ADA compliant with the addition of a wheelchair lift, stairway, two accessible bathrooms, heat and an air exchange system.

Dunbarton Elementary School secretary Shelley Westenberg, who is in charge of booking the school gym, said it is in high demand for use by community organizations like the PTO, 4-H, Garden Club and others. Westenberg said she frequently has to turn people away when the gym is unavailable during basketball season or in the summer when the floors are being cured. When the space isn’t available, the options left are few and far between.

“I’m always telling people, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have meeting space,’ ” Westenberg said. “It’s really important that we have some way of accommodating volunteer groups who are vital to this community, and our children’s groups and other organizations that really need meeting space.”

Other residents shared fond memories of gathering on the second floor of the town hall decades ago for Friday night square dances and community theater performances before accessibility concerns caused events to be moved elsewhere.

“We have spent 32 years not using that building because we haven’t been able to access that second floor,” said David Nault, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “It’s kind of a shame that we’ve taken 32 years to use that space that’s almost as large as this area here.”

It was another good surplus year in Dunbarton, partly due to funds that came in from a town-owned house that was demolished on Kimball Pond Road, allowing the town to dedicate excess funds to the town hall project and to offset the operating budget. Residents passed each warrant article by a wide margin, and aside from some debate over which town buildings needed priority for repairs, there was little reluctance to allocate money to town services.

Residents passed the town operating budget of $2,784,297 without complaint, after one amendment to remedy an error that resulted in the library director being underpaid by $1,146 in 2021. The budget includes a 3% raise for town employees, a percentage Nault said was based on residents’ decision at last year’s meeting to increase the town employees’ raise from 2% to 3%.

Attendees also participated in a secret ballot vote where they decided 205-32 to take out a $1,300,000 bond for road paving and maintenance, a task that needs more money and attention than from the town’s regular roads budget alone, according to road agent Jeff Crosby.

“We find our roads are deteriorating faster than we can keep them paved, which down the road leads to more expense,” Crosby said. “It will make the ride for the cars much better, eliminate a number of potholes and unevenness. When we plow it in the winter it will be easier to scrape the snow off, use less salt, and moving forward it’s just a good thing to do.”

Another article that residents passed was the purchase of a new police cruiser for $56,000. In October, the department unexpectedly lost one of its vehicles after its engine seized up while an officer was responding to a call, Police Chief Christopher Remillard said at the meeting.

“As these vehicles get older, we reach the point where costs of repairs start creeping up on us,” Remillard said. “We want to be proactive in maintaining our fleet so we don’t have any other big issues.”

By a much tighter margin, Dunbarton voters also passed a motion to officially oppose the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet stores in the town. The motion, which passed 44 to 39, came to be on the warrant via resident petition and aims to prevent the support of inhumane breeding facilities known as “puppy mills.” It requires Dunbarton’s selectmen to notify state legislators and Gov. Chris Sununu about the town’s stance on the issue.

In the polls Tuesday, Dunbarton voters elected town officers. Incumbents Clement Madden and Jarrett Duncan were re-elected to the school board with 258 and 225 votes respectively, beating out challengers Raymond Plante (136 votes) and Lori Rouleau (123 votes).

Justin Nault won the open seat on the Board of Selectmen with 252 votes, beating out the other candidate, Raymond Plante, who received 169 votes.

Bryan Clark was re-elected to the Board of Assessors with 290 votes. David Allen was re-elected to the Ethics Committee seat with 379 votes. David Petersen was elected library trustee for a three-year term with 383 votes, and Karen Lessard was elected library trustee for a one-year term with 389 votes. Donald Larsen was re-elected as cemetery trustee 398 votes. Roger Rice is was re-elected as trustee of the trust funds with 379 votes. Judy van Kalken was re-elected as tax collector with 401 votes. Janet Casey was re-elected as supervisor of the checklist with 394 votes. John Trottier was re-elected as town moderator with 392 votes and school district moderator with 386 votes.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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