There is an old saying that where there is a will there is a way. The Bethel Board of Selectmen has never had the will to save the Old Town Hall Teen Center, which was solidly constructed in 1961. They are and have been determined to demolish the building, since they first took office in December of 2009, when they refused to award a State grant of $64,000 to remove all asbestos from the building.
This goes against established precedent in Bethel where older public buildings are always put to new and valuable uses.
The Old Center School (built in 1895) was converted to apartments and brings in $22,000. a year in taxes.
The Old Drum Corps building now brings in $3,100. 00 in Taxes.
Grassy Plain School (built in 1895) is now the YMCA bringing in $30,000 a year in rent.
The old Whittlessy House now brings in $9,000,00 in taxes.
The old Train station is now the Bicycle Shop and brings in $25,000 per year in rent
The Plumtrees School built in 1867 has been preserved for historical and educational purposes.
The Municipal Center (built 1938) originally was a high school and middle school.
The current Board of Selectman have not honored the wishes of the voters of Bethel who authorized the approval of the Library project in December of 2000 only after the Library promised not remove the Old Town Hall Teen Center. This promise was made at a Public Hearing conducted by the Board of Selectmen on September 7, 2000. According to the minutes of this Public Hearing, Architect David Jepson, on behalf of the Library Board of Directors Chaired by Eileen Goodrich,
…”gave an overview of the Library renovation project. He explained that Plan “B” is a revised version of plan “A”; however it is a smaller building, has fewer parking spaces, and retains the old town hall building. He advised that, during construction, the library would utilize their current space at the old town hall.”
On July 30, 200l the Board of Selectmen directed the Library Board to seek parking space on the West Side of the Municipal Center or with neighboring property owners or to seek a hardship ruling from the Zoning Board of Appeals since most times parking is available on the Library Grounds, along School Street or Library Place. At this meeting First Selectman Judith Novachek promised to negotiate with nearby property owners for permission to lease zoning required parking.
A handicap ramp was built in anticipation of putting parking spaces on the West side of the Municipal Center. Instead of trying to tear down the old Town Hall Teen Center and making that intersection near the Post Office even more dangerous, the Board of Selectman should finish the handicap ramp project and provide parking on the West side of Municipal Center that would accomplish three things: It would allow the handicap and elderly better access to the Municipal Center. It would reduce the dangerous congestion around the Post Office and it would give the Library its required parking spaces that could be used by its employees and free up its parking lot for Library Patrons.
The Selectmen have had offers to convert the Old Town Hall Teen Center for apartments or offices. One local developer has spent his own money on a feasibility study that showed the building could be used for apartments with adequate parking spaces to meet all zoning requirements. Several citizens have suggested that if the Town retained ownership of the building that it could be used as a Museum. These offers have all fallen on deaf ears because Mathew Knickerbocker is determined, no matter what is said, to demolish this $700,000 asset. The only way to stop him is to vote YES because once this beautiful, cape cod style brick building that is located on a whole street of brick buildings is demolished, it will be gone forever!!
J. Philip Gallagher
12-year member of the Bethel board of Selectmen
Current member (11 years) and Former Chairman, Bethel Board of Finance
4-year member Bethel Board of Assessment Appeals
Bethel, Connecticut 06801