Photo by Jennifer Langille A footprint and gravel are all that remain of the handicapped-accessible ramp that once led to the entrance of City Hall in Barre. The city is awaiting a permit for the work it has already done and its plans for a replacement ramp and other improvements to City Hall.
BARRE — You just can’t go monkeying with a historic building in a historic district without City Hall having something to say about it. Even, that is, if the building in question happens to be City Hall.
Folks who’ve been by City Hall lately have probably noticed that the concrete ramp that once made the front entrance accessible to those with disabilities has disappeared. What they haven’t seen — because it isn’t there and doesn’t yet exist — is the posted permit for a much-discussed project that by all accounts got ahead of itself.
In a classic case of “do as we say, not as we do,” the city jumped the gun on the restoration and renovation project when it started work without a permit this month.
No one was more surprised than Mike Miller, the city’s director of planning, zoning and inspection services.
When he arrived for work at City Hall on April 8, a city crew had already ripped the iron railing off the ramp and started its demolition.
Miller’s first thought?
“You can’t do that without a permit,” he recalled, noting that at that point, no one had even applied for one.
They have now, and while Miller has no reason to believe the Development Review Board won’t grant a permit when it considers the request Thursday, he said the ramp is long gone and shouldn’t be.
“(City Hall) is an historic building in the historic district, so you can’t just come in and get a $10 demolition permit and rip (the ramp) out,” he said, noting that in this case even the demolition permit wasn’t obtained.
Miller, who ordered work stopped as soon as the partly demolished ramp — a hazard at that point — was removed, said a mix of confusion and miscommunication fueled the episode.
The misperception that a municipal project wasn’t subject to review may have been partly to blame, according to Miller, who said the various players may have assumed someone else obtained the permits required.
Though Miller’s office was well aware of the project, which is being financed with some of the money that Barre businessman Charlie Semprebon left the city at his death in 2009, he said an application wasn’t filed until days after the work had started.
“We should have been told months ago,” he said. “We talk about projects all the time. We had no idea they were actually going to be starting it until the excavator showed up.”
Fortunately, Miller said, the application was filed just in time to meet the warning requirements for next week’s meeting of the review board. If it hadn’t, he said, some aspects of the project — those involving modifications to the historic structure — would have been delayed another month.
Proposed changes to the City Hall façade, the reconstruction of the building’s front entrance, the installation of a new access ramp and lighting all must be reviewed and approved, according to Miller, who said other aspects of the project amount to routine maintenance. Plans to remove, sandblast, paint and replace the rusting fire escape, clean and repoint the brickwork and repaint historic window casings fit that category, he said.
Facilities Director Jeff Bergeron said he thought contractor Lajeunesse Construction had obtained the necessary permits from the city before members of the Public Works Department started removing the concrete ramp in a move that shaved nearly $2,000 off the bid price. He said he applied for the permit as soon as he learned it wasn’t already in hand.
According to Miller, the ramp wasn’t a historic feature of the building and there is little reason to believe the board won’t approve the plan to replace it with one that meets accessibility codes.
“It’s definitely an improvement, but you can’t ignore the process,” he said.
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