The Commons
Town and Village

Volunteers work to clean, repair Athens Town Office

Voters narrowly rejected a new building in October

Originally published in The Commons issue #180 (Wednesday, November 28, 2012).

ATHENS—The Town Office, located in one of three buildings that constitute the town center, used to be the schoolhouse. Behind the listers’ desk, two large and rare slate blackboards still hang on the wall as vestiges of the building’s previous use.

No one seems to know exactly the age of the building, which is in serious disrepair.

But photographs from the early 1800s show schoolchildren in front of a neat, white-clapboarded building with freshly painted shutters. Sandi Capponcelli, a member of the Board of Listers who also maintains an Athens, Vt. page on Facebook, thinks the building was last used as a one-room schoolhouse in the 1970s.

At an Oct. 25 Special Town Meeting, by a vote of 25-21, voters rejected an article to fund construction of a new town office.

In the wake of that vote, a group of residents headed by Capponcelli asked the Selectboard on Nov. 15 to recognize a new group, the Town Office Volunteers, to help in the repair, upgrading, and maintenance of the Athens Town Office.

Knowing the value of this history and its crucial location as one of three buildings constituting a “town center” — along with the Athens Elementary School and the Community Christian Church — Capponcelli said she felt compelled to find a way to save the building before repairs got beyond salvageability.

The board recognized the group — a procedure that ensures that volunteers are covered by the town’s liability insurance — and then went on to discuss further possible sources of funding for various repairs and renovations, first addressing the building’s leaking roof.

Later in the meeting, the board passed a motion to contact Jones Brothers Roofing of Bellows Falls to see if the firm is interested in repairing the roof and to advertise an invitation to bid for drywall work for the ceiling.

“I think the Selectboard was surprised by how many volunteers showed up to show their support,” Capponcelli said of the roomful of people who came.

Clean the mustiness, preserve the history

Capponcelli said a group of nine volunteers has already thoroughly cleaned the main room of the building and bathroom, so the dusty, musty smell of an old building is gone.

But she wants make sure that the rich legacy of the building remains intact.

“There is so much history here,” Capponcelli said as she lifted a large paper map off the wall, revealing an original pen-and-ink map of the town, rendered on sheepskin.

It is “archivally mounted but it needs to be covered to keep it from direct sunlight,” as this wall is the only one big enough for the two seminal pieces of town history, she said.

Beside it, under another large covering, hangs the original handwritten town charter.

“These are important town documents we can’t even display properly,” Capponcelli said.

Other historic photographs and handwritten documents are somewhat haphazardly mounted on an opposite wall hidden behind some flags.

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