Loudon gets long-awaited town office project underway

  • Loudon began construction of its new town office building a couple months ago after the $1 million project was approved at town meeting in March 2016. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Construction on the new town office building in Loudon is well underway and is tentatively scheduled to be completed in March. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Men work on the new town office building in Loudon Monday, which should get its second floor in the next week. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Jay Berwick shows the plans for the new Loudon town office currently under construction. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Jay Berwick, a Loudon resident and construction company owner, is overseeing the new town office building project. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Loudon selectman and former police chief Bob Fiske walks by the front entrance of the new town office building under construction Monday. Fiske said the last capital project done in town was his former office – the safety complex – over two decades ago. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/24/2016 9:49:48 PM

To the casual observer, the new Loudon town office building under construction may look like a new building quickly heading toward completion.

Where a dirt parking lot and one story structure sit, an asphalt driveway and second floor are expected in another week. The entire structure, currently a naked wooden frame, should be covered with vinyl siding and ready to open by March.

But the town office has been anything but a quick process. The new building was proposed about 12 years ago when the current one, a converted farmhouse just up the road, became too cramped (and perhaps a little too creepy) for town business.

A Monitor article from 2004 quoted some town officials as saying they just didn’t “do the basement,” because of “some crawly things.” Keeping the crawlies company there were also plenty of town documents. Even more paperwork was crammed in filing cabinets and boxes stashed around the office.

In addition to not having a vault, the building was too small to meet the long lines of residents around tax collection time. The clerk sat behind a window with her desk in a hallway, which adjoined a “break room” that, with the only access to the bathrooms, doubled as the welfare office. It – and the bathrooms – was off limits during welfare meetings.

There were also days when, due to some “mysterious leaks,” town employees would return on Monday to find live (and dead) birds that had gotten into the lobby over the weekend.

“It’s a real treat,” receptionist Bonnie Theriault told the Monitor at the time.

The 200-year-old house, which is a half greystone, half white clapboard Cape Cod style-colonial hybrid abutting a narrow driveway and a historic barn, wasn’t meant to be a town office in the first place. It just came with the 20-acre parcel of land the town bought for recreation fields in the 1980s.

But when the old town offices site became hazardous – a town clerk once fainted there from diesel fumes – the house offered itself up as a solution.

At least to a point.

Loudon tried to ask voters for a new office building twice, first with a $750,000 bond in 2004 and then a $1.1 million bond in 2005. After being rejected both times, the town tried a different approach to assuage its proudly debt-free residents: saving its pennies.

The town had accumulated about $1 million by the end of town meeting in 2016, after putting away $100,000 in a capital reserve fund every year.

Loudon used a good chunk of that change to buy the former American Legion Post 88 just down the street on South Village Road, finalizing the $180,000 purchase in 2013. Select board members couldn’t find a buyer for the historic building, though, so they gave it to Colin Cabot, who owns Sanborn Mills Farm and planned to erect and maintain the 150-year-old structure there in 2014.

The select board put the project out to bid and signed a contract with local company Berwick Construction on Sept. 13.

That brings the story to Monday morning, when selectman and former police chief Bob Fiske set his eyes on the first-story structure before him: the product of two months work.

“It’s far sturdier than any house,” he said. It would be a better spot for meetings than “Charlie’s Barn,” he added, the historic barn behind the current town office which used to hold Charlie Simond’s cows back in the day.

More recently, the barn has hosted the Loudon Historical Society plus community meetings, though it isn’t really safely set up for either. There are no sprinklers in place, for example, “God forbid if anything should happen to it,” Fiske said.

The old town buildings will stay where they are, Fiske said, though he guessed voters would get a chance to pitch ideas for what to do with them on town meeting day in March.

That’s around the same time Fiske said the new office building should be close to done. Walking around the construction site dusted in snow Monday, he pointed to the cement pad on the east side of the structure, an expectant space where restrooms will soon be.

“They were adamant,” Fiske said, noting there were just port-a-potty rentals set up in the past for the athletic space adjacent to the new site.

“Which got tipped over and vandalized,” he added.

Fiske noted the other benefits of the new building – more parking spots, a bigger meeting space for the selectboard, a vault, presumably free of crawly things and birds.

They’re the rewards of more than a decade of effort, which, Fiske said, didn’t ease up right to the end.

“It was quite a feat to get the project completed, or started,” he said.

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)

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