3/27/2014 3:00:00 PM Vevay Town Hall staying downtown
TOP: Keith Smith
BOTTOM: Josh South
It's been a topic of discussion all over the community for the past couple of months, but at Monday night's meeting of the Vevay Town Council, an official decision was made to halt discussion of the possible sale of town hall.
It had been proposed that the current town hall - which sits on Ferry Street and is the first Carnegie Library built in the state of Indiana - be appraised for possible sale.
If that sale happened, town hall and the Vevay Police station which is located in the basement would move to the Utilities Building on Seminary Street, which is the site of the old "Company House" of the U.S. Shoe Corporation.
The town council discussed the move because the current town hall is not handicap-accessible, and some felt that the money used to bring the building up to code was simply too much to spend.
A presentation by Indiana Landmarks last month showed that the building could be brought up to standards, and some downtown residents and business owners also expressed their concern over the town leaving the downtown area for Seminary Street.
At Monday's meeting, the council decided to end the discussion.
Town Council President Josh South and member Keith Smith both gave their opinions on the issue, as well as listened to several members of the community who again voiced their disagreement with the plan.
Town Council member Jamie Hayes was not able to attend Monday's meeting.
"Probably about a month ago I put in a request to have an appraisal done of the current town hall," Josh South said. "We got some numbers mixed up with the appraiser, so I called Donna (Vevay Clerk-Treasurer Donna Graham), and I got thinking about it, and I'm not sure that we are all in consensus on the board about what the final goal is going to be."
That said, Josh South said that he supports continuing to look at the possibility.
"I am still of the opinion that it's the best economical solution for the town," he said. "I've heard a bunch of different arguments. I've heard that it's important to have a town hall presence in the main street district, it helps for the businesses, and I understand that opinion - I don't necessarily agree with it - but I do understand that opinion."
Josh South said that he has also heard about the historical importance of having town hall in a building like the Carnegie Library.
"Honestly, I don't think it does that building justice to have civic offices in that building," he said. "...Really it's there to pay a bill and visit a police station. I think that building could be re-purposed for something better than that."
Josh South said that, if his fellow board members, Keith Smith and Jamie Hayes, weren't going to consider moving town hall, then it was time to end the conversation and get on with other matters facing the town.
"I would rather keep the town hall where it is, but we have to make it handicap-accessible, we have to," Keith Smith said. "If we cannot make that handicap-accessible, then we have to get out of there. That's just where we're at. It has to be accessible to all members of the public."
Members of the audience pointed out that other buildings in town, such as the post office, are not handicap-accessible; and suggested 'curb service' for town residents who can't get up the steps and who call and pre-arrange for someone to meet them at the street level.
Donna Graham said that practice has been done by her office for years.
Josh South said that it was also important to clear up what he termed a "big misconception from day one".
"We are not going to abandon that building," he said. "We are not going to leave it empty. That's never been the talk at any point. The goal from day one was basically that if did find a good buyer who was going to utilize that building, then we would make the move. Not make the move and leave the building empty, that was never the plan."
There was also some disagreement among town officials on the status of the building itself.
When answering a person's comment, Josh South asked if the person had recently been in town hall.
"It's in bad shape as it is," Josh South said. "We've done a very poor job of taking care of it."
"It's not in terrible shape," Donna Graham said.
"You can't turn on a computer," Josh South said.
"That's the electrical, but you make it sound like you walk in and it's just falling apart, it's not. It's a sound building."
"I'll have to disagree with that," Josh South said. "When you walk around in the basement of that building, it doesn't look like a sound building, that's my opinion."
Josh South said that the town had a feasibility study done on doing work to the current town hall to make it handicap-accessible and also to make improvements such as electrical.
Members of the audience noted that the plan included many options, and that it was a project that could be done in stages, spreading out the cost over time.
"And that choices are to come here, that's the other option?" resident Melodee Stepleton asked. (Town Council meetings are held at the Utility Building).
"That was my plan, yes," Josh South said.
"You're a nice man, but that's just not a good idea," Melodee Stepleton said.
"Can I ask why?" Josh South responded.
"I really don't like the idea of it being pulled out of downtown, first of all," Melodee Stepleton said. "I understand that buildings need to be taken down sometimes, but that one..."
"No one ever said that building was going to be taken down," Councilman Keith Smith said. "People can't say that kind of stuff. It's not going to be taken down."
"You're pulling people out of town," Melodee Stepleton said.
"When I drive through this town and all of the history that we have here, and when I go into that building and pay my water bill, it's impressive," Claudia Dawson said. "I would love to use that building, I would love to see it utilized."
"That Carnegie Museum is about like having a Frank Lloyd Wright building in your town," Tom Stepleton said. "They didn't building Carnegie Museums everywhere. That man paid for a lot of sins by being philanthropic and building those museums in this country."
"I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm not," Josh South said. "I've said that time and time again. I think it's a waste to have that building as a building where you go and pay your water bill."
"Then why not make it into a true town hall? Why not have your meetings there?" Martha Bladen asked. "I believe you can do the handicap-accessibilty work there. Now the price tag on the whole renovation of the police department is what made it so costly, not the cost of making it handicapped-accessible. Why not move the police department here? They would have the space they need; and would leave room to make that a true town hall. It would have more dignity there, anyway."
Josh South said that he understood that point, but that the reason for the idea of selling the building was so that the town could then take the proceeds from the sale and use that money to make the necessary renovations to the Seminary Street building so that town offices and the police department could move there without using riverboat funds or adding to the tax rolls.
After further discussion, Josh South made a motion to revoke the motion to have an appraisal done on the Ferry Street town hall. Keith Smith seconded that and it was approved unanimously.
"Give me clarity, you're not getting an appraisal, so that means you're staying where you are?" Martha Bladen asked.
"That means we're staying where we are," Josh South said.