Litchfield News

Selectmen, Bantam discuss fate of Town Hall Annex (02-12-17)

The Bantam post offfice figures into the discussion of the future of the Town Hall Annex in Bantam. BZ photo
Officials in Bantam would prefer to see the Town Hall Annex in the borough remain open for municipal use after Bantam Superior Court leaves this year, but First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. said that is not going to happen.
Paul, in a meeting with Bantam’s Board of Warden and Burgesses on Wednesday, made it clear that the Board of Selectmen favors closing the building at some point after the courthouse moves to the new Litchfield County courthouse in Torrington.
Maintaining the Town Hall Annex for municipal use wouldn’t be fiscally feasible, according to Paul, because of the cost of operating the building. The $200,000 annual rent the state pays to the town for the courthouse will be lost when the courthouse leaves.
The rent, along with the $50,000 annual rent the Bantam post office pays, covers the operating cost. A fund set up to cover operating costs has enough money to pay for the building for another two years or so, according to Paul. After that, taxpayers would have to assume the operating cost.
There are five municipal offices in the Town Hall Annex, which is a wild card in the Board of Selectmen’s discussion of a plan for a new $5.9 million town hall on the lot behind Town Hall. Town Hall would be torn down under the plan.
A new town hall would be able to accommodate all town offices, including the five in the Town Hall Annex. Ideally, Paul said, the town would sell the Town Hall Annex and its 10 acres and use the proceeds to offset the cost of a new town hall.
The first selectman and Selectman Paul Parsons met with the Bantam board in an effort to find common ground on the fate of the Town Hall Annex. Both parties expressed a willingness to work together, although Bantam Warden Richard Sheldon said his board favors the town holding onto the property and moving more town offices into it.
“We have a building here with a lot of useable space that could alleviate the space crunch in Town Hall,” Sheldon said.
 The fate of the post office is another concern, Sheldon said.
“People in Bantam are passionate about their post office and are concerned they’re going to lose it,” Sheldon said. “They think the Board of Selectmen should support and defend the post office as much as it would if the Litchfield post office was in jeopardy.”
Paul agreed with Sheldon’s assessment of the post office and said selectmen would work to make sure the post office stays in Bantam.
Selectmen, Paul said, support Bantam’s post office and want to see it remain in the borough.
Using the Town Hall Annex as a town hall has been ruled out by committees that have worked on a plan for a new town hall over the past 11 years. The building would need more than $1 million in upgrades just to bring it up to the building code, is poorly constructed, and has a poor layout, according to the various committees. Plus, it is not in the center of town.
That didn’t stop Bantam Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman John Langer from suggesting use of the building as a town hall.
“To me it’s a no-brainer where the town hall should be,” Langer said. “We have a wonderful piece of property that we could never replace if we got rid of it.”
Paul added that the town could demolish the Town Hall Annex at a cost of about $100,000 and sell the property for residential use. Or it could give the property to Bantam, although the borough lacks the financial resources to maintain it.
The selectmen’s discussion of the town hall plan is expected to resume on Feb. 21. If the town were to decide not to go forward with a plan to build a new town hall, it would have to spend an estimated $1.2 million to bring the current Town Hall up to standard. The 56-year-old building is in a state of decay.
If the Town Hall Annex is closed for municipal use and a new town hall is not built, the town would have to pay for space to house the offices located in the Town Hall Annex.