To move or not move Vevay Town Hall: How to best utilize town buildings

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There’s the possibility of cost savings if the Town of Vevay could combine all their functions into one building, but that would mean vacating one building.

Council member Josh South proposed the possibility last month of vacating the Town Hall at 210 Ferry Street and moving all city operations into the Utilties Building at 508 West Seminary Street. The issue was brought up again at last week’s council meeting, but no action was taken to move it forward.

“In Vevay, we’re operationally poor, but capital rich,” said Josh South. The town has money “for the big projects” because of the monies they receive from riverboat funds, but “we struggle with operational costs. It’s the day-to-day where we’re struggling.”

He said it doesn’t make sense for the town to operate out of two buildings when they’re both underutilized.

“We have a beautiful town hall,” said Josh South, but in additional to the cost-savings, he noted the utilities building is handicapped accessible and has easier parking. He noted the town council moved its meetings to the utilities building from the town hall to make the meetings handicap accessible.

Still, the current town hall has historical significance.

The building has been the Vevay Town Hall since 1992, but the fact that it was built as a Carnegie Library has not been forgotten. There remains a portrait of Andrew Carnegie hanging on the wall in the main room of the building, which now serves as the clerk-treasurer’s office. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie provided funding for libraries throughout the United States and in the world from 1883 to 1929. In the early 20th century, a Carnegie library was often the most imposing structure in hundreds of small American communities.

Seth Elder, southeast director for Indiana Landmarks, said the building is also important because “Vevay is on the national register for historic places for its downtown, and any building that has a history of 50 years or older contributes to the national register nomination. It’s an important building within that district. It’s an important part of Vevay.”

The Vevay Town Hall building was a library until 1992 when the Switzerland County Public Library opened in its current location at 205 Ferry Street. The building is the last Carnegie library constructed in Indiana, and one of the last in the United States, according to the Switzerland County Public Library’s website. On November 13th, 1917, the library received a letter from the Carnegie Corporation, informing them that the town of Vevay and Switzerland County would receive $12,500 for a new library building. The new library building was completed and opened to the public on January 27th, 1919. Andrew Carnegie died August 11th, 1919 at the age of 83.

Seth Elder has met with the town council and will be meeting with the town council again to discuss ways to better utilize the space in the town hall, along with opportunities for grants and loans to assist the town with funding necessary to make the improvements. Indiana Landmarks “works to keep historic structures in use,” he said, but added “we’re not in the business of telling anyone what to do. We find out what they want to do, and help them to know there are things they can get done within a historic building that they hadn’t thought about before.” Indiana Landmarks has a “wealth of experience dealing with different properties,” he said, including consideration of ways to make them more handicap accessible.

Josh South said he’s aware of the historic nature of the town hall, along with the benefit of its proximity within the core of the town’s downtown, “but I’m looking at two buildings that are both underutilized, so why not consolidate.”