The crumbling front steps at the Bethel Town Office on Main Street are cordoned off, making it a longer walk for visitors who must use a side door. Bethel Citizen photo by Alison Aloisio

BETHEL — With the town simultaneously facing a nearly $100,000 repair to the Town Office steps and no longer using Crescent Park School for voting after November, selectmen are informally looking into the possibility of relocating the office.

The town owns the former Ethel Bisbee School on Philbrook Street, just off Main Street. Although the property has been on the market for some time there has not been a serious offer, according to town officials.

On Sept. 9, selectmen discussed the possibility of either renovating the office or replacing it, providing there is enough space for voting and there is more parking than at the Town Office near the head of Main Street.

The Town Office building, known as the Cole Block, was built in the early 1890s.

Board Chairman Peter Southam and Selectman Andy Whitney spoke in favor of considering a new location, including the school site. Noting it has not sold for what town officials think it’s worth, he said the town should look into the cost of renovating it or removing it and building a new structure.

Whitney suggested they ask for informal estimates from area builders and/or engineers to give them an idea of the feasibility.

The discussion was tied to consideration of an estimate to fix the crumbling front steps at the Town Office. For months customers have had to use the side door, making it a longer walk for older people and prompting daily inquiries from residents on when the problem will be fixed, according to town officials.

The board received a $93,555 estimate for repairs from Main-Land Development Consultants of Livermore Falls. Specific quotes were $15,000 to remove the concrete steps and slab, $20,000 for a granite block wall and steps, and $20,000 for radiant heat.

The crumbling was caused partly by freezing in the winter, Town Manager Loretta Powers said. Radiant heat would prolong the life of new steps, she added.

She said any fix to the entrance would also include removing and relocating inscribed bricks placed during Bethel’s bicentennial observance more than 20 years ago.

Powers said work needs to be done before winter, whether temporary or permanent.

The board voted to solicit bids that include concrete steps to reduce costs.

The town has made other improvements to the building in recent years, including adding insulation to walls on the first floor.

In addition to the problem with the steps, Town Clerk Christen Mason said she has been informed by SAD 44 officials that Crescent Park School will no longer be available for town voting after the November election.

For some years the school has closed on voting days because of safety concerns for students. On those days teacher workshops were held. Staff and administrators want to coordinate their workshops better with the rest of the district staff, town officials said.

The fire station has been mentioned as an alternative, but moving the trucks out would use nearly all of the parking needed for voters.

Selectmen asked Mason and Powers to talk to the Bethel Inn about the possibility of using the Bethel Inn Conference Center behind the Town Office.

Selectmen also asked Powers to seek basic, informal estimates for moving the Town Office to the former school on Philbrick Street and have them ready for the October board meeting. If the board ultimately decided to recommend such a step, a town vote would be required.

Powers said the idea of moving the office has been mentioned in recent months, but no steps toward studying the possibility have been taken until now.


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