Committee tackles Manchester courthouse challenges

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MANCHESTER — The town of Manchester has a good problem on its hands.

The town is now the owner of the Village Courthouse, located at the corner of Route 7A and Union Street in the village.

Built in 1822, the courthouse reverted to Manchester thanks to a supreme court case close to 100 years ago that determined that once the building was no longer used as a courthouse, it would belong to the town. The county filed the paperwork over the summer to complete the transaction.

Now, however, the town has to figure out what to do with the nearly 200-year-old building that comes with all the qualities and problems of an old building.

Toward that goal, the select board appointed a nine-person committee to study the issue and come up with some suggestions.

The committee members include chairwoman Cynthia Kilburn, as well as Brian Knight and Nina Mooney from the Village Trustees. Other members include Shawn Harrington, Bill Badger, Katie McNabb, Dave Quesnel, Pauline Moore and select board member Wayne Bell.

The committee met Thursday, Sept. 12, to get the ball rolling and immediately realized they have a lot of questions to find answers to before they even consider what the town might use the building for.

So, while the urge to list potential uses for the space was strong, the committee, with Judge Munson watching over the room from his position on the wall behind the bench, determined that the first things needed were to come up with some hard facts about the building.

Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe was tasked with coming up with a budget of what it's going to cost to just own the building for heat, electricity and such.

The committee also needs a copy of the architectural plans and a copy of the National Historical Trust listing.

The building will also need some basic repairs and ongoing maintenance, so the committee asked O'Keefe to get someone to look the building over for what its immediate needs are.

"Old buildings are a money pit," O'Keefe said. "There are some things we'll have to do on an immediate basis."

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One of the issues the committee recognized will have to be dealt with is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The building has tight stairs in two places and multiple steps up and down inside the building not to mention no accessible entrances.

"ADA is definitely a difficult issue," O'Keefe said.

As the discussion turned to money and costs over the long term, Brian Knight, village trustee president, brought up the question of whether the town even wanted to keep the building.

"Do we even want to keep it," Knight said. "If we don't, we should decide now."

O'Keefe said the building is an important part of town.

"It's probably one of the most historic buildings in Manchester," O'Keefe said. "There are a couple of buildings I would say are in the same ballpark, but this is the iconic image of the village."

Kilburn agreed losing the building would be a "bad thing."

"If we can't find anything to do with it, that might drive the other decision," Kilburn said. "But, we don't even know what it costs."

As the committee members discussed the building, stories began to be told as memories of weddings, adoptions and court cases that took place in the courthouse were remembered.

Soon, ideas for what the building might be used for were being tossed around including historical uses, as a visitors' center, co-working space or business incubator, as a community space for meetings, events or community groups, and many more.

One thing was clear, there are no shortages of ideas for use, but how to get there will be the challenge.

The committee will take up that challenge again at its meeting in late October.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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