HIGHGATE – After months of discussion and at least one other attempt at a special town meeting, the voters of Highgate approved the transfer of funds needed for the replacement of the Highgate Town Office Complex’s aging roof during a special town meeting Thursday night, fulfilling a longtime goal of several selectboards.
Following a 22-4 paper ballot vote that transferred $62,250 initially committed to repairing the roof to a complete replacement, a vote from the floor underlined the town’s decision to replace the roof, dedicating another $30,000 from the town’s Machia Road Bridge project to said replacement.
Previously, the selectboard had approved a $35,500 contract to repair the roof, but gradually the conversation shifted to a full replacement due to the short-term nature of repairs and inspections of the roof revealing that it was deteriorating faster than initially thought.
A Town Meeting Day vote had committed $62,250 – $40,000 from the town’s American Disabilities Act (ADA) project and another $22,250 from its sidewalk fund – to repairing their roof. Those funds were added to another $10,000 already set aside for repairs, but because those were committed to repair rather than replace the roof, the selectboard was required to seek voter approval before it could spend money on a full replacement.
With the bid for a replacement coming in at $102,250, the selectboard also sought a special town meeting vote to add $30,000 from the Machia Bridge project, which had come in roughly $100,000 under budget, to their roof replacement fund.
A contractor with R and A Enterprises, an East Berkshire company contracted originally to repair the town offices’ roof, was also present at the time, sitting alongside the selectboard and town staff to answer whatever questions might have come up from an electorate that, at least on Thursday night, had technical questions in mind.
The contractor introduced the problems afflicting the roof – which included rust and pitting across the roof, a poorly fitted cap and peeling in the roof’s valleys – and explained that, while “a good standing seam roof should last 50 years,” the current roof’s paint and metal likely led to the pitting problems currently ailing their roof.
“The cap is also not done correctly,” he added. “If you get enough wind and rain, it can blow up underneath the cap.”
While his explanations were more technical, they were compounded by reports from the town’s staff that water frequently leaked into the building, even during the summer.
Previous suggestions that the selectboard consider a corrugated steel roof rather than the more expensive standing seam roof they originally looked at were quickly dismissed by the contractor’s suggestion that a corrugated steel roof couldn’t handle the ice jams that’d likely come with a Vermont winter.
“If it gets voted down, we repair it.”
Resident Rich Wilkins suggested that the $40,000 pulled from the ADA accessibility fund on Town Meeting Day should be returned to that fund, stating that the improvements needed to make the town offices ADA accessible would only have gotten more expensive.
“Right now, if you look at how much it’s going to cost… you’re still not going to have enough to do that ADA project,” Wilkins warned, adding that he feared the town could face fines for not being in compliance with ADA. “Prices don’t go down.”
Town administrator Heidi Britch-Valenta reported that ADA improvements for the town offices were almost ready to go out to a construction bid once the town cleared Phase II testing. She and selectperson Bruce Butler hypothesized that it wouldn’t be until at least 2019 that construction for ADA improvements could begin.
“I don’t think you should put $100,000 into a building with a leaky roof,” added selectboard vice chair Joshua LaRocque.
Wilkins agreed that they should take care of the roof but added that he was worried the transfer of funds to a roof replacement might jeopardize funding needed for ADA improvements.
“You can’t fix that room unless the roof gets done,” he admitted. “I just want to make sure that you don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”
“You already did,” answered town treasurer Shelley Laroche, referring to the Town Meeting Day vote that originally transferred $40,000 from the ADA fund.
R and A Enterprise’s contractor reported that, should a replacement be approved, construction would happen sometime in Fall and finish in time for winter. They would need to finish repairing the ceiling at Highgate Elementary School beforehand, a project that, reported school board chair Chris Shepard, has become more extensive since it began.
“They opened up the first valley – it wasn’t great, wasn’t too bad,” Shepard began. “They opened up the second one and that’s when his man fell through the roof.”
There was a second of silence around the room before LaRocque leaned forward to ask: “Is your man okay?”
“He didn’t really fall through the roof,” the contractor clarified. “His leg did.”
Town residents interrogated a roof replacement further, asking again about a corrugated steel roof and whether or not the town had sought any insurance claims for water damage from the leaks. The selectboard admitted they had not and agreed to look into insurance once roof repairs start.
Residents also asked about what would happen if they voted down the funds needed for a replacement.
“In my mind, we already approved the repair,” LaRocque said. “If it gets voted down, we repair it.”
“And we’ll repair it again in five years,” Butler added.
With that, a formal vote was called to move $62,250 from a roof repair fund to a roof replacement. Residents moved for it to be conducted via paper ballot and, after a quick count, the transfer of funds from the repair fund to a full replacement was approved 22 to 4.
A second vote related to the $30,000 the town needed to pull from Machia Bridge project leftovers was held from the floor and, after discussion about where or not an extra $10,000 would be needed for contingencies, most of the roughly two dozen residents attending Thursday’s meeting approved the selectboard’s request for $30,000.
With funds for a new roof secured, the selectboard formally signed off on a roof replacement during the regular meeting that followed Thursday night’s special town meeting.
During that regular meeting, the Highgate selectboard held an extensive discussion about the town’s response to a looming Act 46 merger, believing that the State Board of Education was likely to act on the Secretary of Education’s recommendation that Highgate Elementary School be forced to consolidate with school districts in Franklin and Swanton.
Those conversations, as well as other business tackled by the Highgate selectboard Thursday night, will be covered in a later edition of the Messenger.