Board seeks contractor for Town Hall work
Wilton selectmen planning to renovate west end of building
WILTON – The Board of Selectmen is in the process of finding a contractor to oversee the renovations of the west end of Town Hall, the part occupied by the police department before a new building was erected.
The space is currently used by the building inspector, town assessor, welfare department and for storage. Those who have offices there say – maybe euphemistically – that the heat is "unreliable."
At Town Meeting in March, voters approved $27,000 for design plans, bid documents and construction inspections for the area. The winner of the contract will present its proposal at Town Meeting in March.
The renovations will include new wiring, plumbing and heating, as well as the removal of the old jail cells and totally redesigning the space into more efficient offices and storage. Entrance to the area from Main Street is to the left of the main door to the theater.
The selectmen met recently with representatives of the MacMillin Co. of Keene, the second of the three bidders, and much of the conversation was about hazardous materials, asbestos and lead paint.
There was also a large contingency fund for the unexpected. It was noted that when working on old buildings, there are always unexpected things lurking behind walls and ceilings. Whether there are hazardous materials isn’t yet known. If any are found, the town will have them removed under a separate contract.
Town Hall, which was built in 1883 at a cost of $23,000, certainly qualifies as an old building. Prior to that, the space on the north side of Main Street was occupied by the three-story Whiting House. The hotel was one of many buildings lost in a fire in 1874, one of three fires over a space of 11 years that burned most of downtown.
One of the consequences of that fire was the formation of a fire department. The eastern end ofTown Hall, now occupied by the selectmen’s offices, was a bay for Engine No. 1, "Excelsior," beginning in 1887. In the 1970s, that space was the garage for the ambulance. When a handicapped access was required, the space was remodeled to include an interior ramp.
That ramp now must be modified on the sidewalk to meet current ADA standards.
The hall has undergone many renovations over the years. The downstairs meeting room is usually called "The Courtroom" after the many years it served as the municipal court. Prior to that, it was the "Banquet Room," where town meeting dinners and other festivities were held, as well as a hot lunch program for the schools in the 1940s and 1950s. A kitchen was located behind the dining room, recently remodeled into storage and improved restrooms.
Currently under discussion is a new heating system, with a pellet furnace suggested by a study committee. That system was voted down last March because voters wanted more information.
Upstairs, the hall hasn’t changed much. The Town Hall Theatre occupies the space where town meetings were held until they moved to the much larger gym at the elementary school.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, the Heritage Commission will present a program at the library called "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight – the Fires of Wilton." The program will include descriptions of the three Main Street fires and the development of