Townshend Town Hall needs expensive repairs to heating system

TOWNSHEND — After discovering a hole in the heat exchange unit, and numerous potential code violations in the oil tanks and chimney of the Town Hall, the Selectboard met with Town Hall Renovations Committee member Bob DeSiervo on Dec. 17 to discuss the replacing of the furnace and, potentially, the building's entire heating system.

“We have a 35-year old furnace, a cracked heat exchanger, no oil, it's Christmas, and we can't wait until Town Meeting [to discuss this]. We elected you to make a decision,” DeSiervo said.

The renovations committee first met in 2008, at which point they consulted with a local architect, who looked over building blueprints and offered suggestions for renovations. One area of focus was mechanical systems, which included heating, electricity and plumbing.

The committee, along with the architect, then reviewed the majority of feasible heating options, ranging from geothermal to simple upgrades to the town hall's current oil powered forced hot air system.

The conclusion was to stick with the current ducted system that the building has, as it is already set up, but to replace the current furnace with a higher efficiency, propane powered furnace.

“The point of all this was anything other than using the existing duct work was expensive and didn't stick with the historic features of the building,” DeSiervo explained.

“If you were beginning with a clean sheet of paper, a system that used radiant heat would be a preferred method these days. This is what we have, though, and that's what we have to stick with,” he said. “You've got everything you need to do what you've got to do.”

Estimates for similar propane furnaces in the town hall from previous years varied from $10,000 to $15,000. These estimates did not include repairs to the chimney or oil tanks, both of which were supposed to have been inspected on an annual basis, but were not.

Selectboard member Jeffrey Russ, who is also a contractor, had noted that some rooms are constantly overheating,while others in the building are underheated.

Recently, Russ has sent out multiple requests for estimates for installing a new propane ducted system, but the town had only received one back at the time of the Selectboard meeting. Since it is classified as a bid, the Selectboard opted to refrain from opening the estimate until others were received.

Of particular concern was the Town Hall's current status as a historic building. Like all historic federal buildings, the building must meet certain renovation requirements set by the National Parks Service in order to remain an historic landmark.

“I'm looking at what changes we'd have to be making to this historic building, and at what point do we lose the historic nature of it,” Selectboard member David Dezendorf said.

“Yes it's an old building, but you can do new stuff to an old building without destroying its historic nature,” Russ said, in response to the prospect of historical building regulations. “What the hell is the point in maintaining the building? I'm all for saving stuff, but I'm not, say, going to go find old tires at the junkyard because I don't want to put newer, different tires on.”

DeServio said the renovation committee had met with the goal of simply heating the building, and had reviewed all options regardless of regulations. “We even considered a $250,000 geothermal system that would pay back over 30 years,” he said. “The point is if you were starting from scratch, radiant hot water is the preferred method these days.”

The Selectboard decided to postpone further discussion of the new furnace and heating system until more estimates came in, and historical building regulations are thoroughly reviewed, although they will not wait as long as the next town meeting to make a final decision.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates