The former Ethel Bisbee School on Philbrook Street in Bethel is being considered for renovation or replacement for a town hall. Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

BETHEL — An architect told selectmen this week he thinks renovating the former Ethel Bisbee School for a town hall is a better option than demolishing it and building new.

M. Ted Dickerson, owner of TDArchitect in Bryant Pond, said it would cost between $800,000 and $900,000 to renovate the school on Philbrook Street, as opposed to building a town hall there for more than $1.2 million.

For six months town officials have been discussing using the school for government offices and meeting space because it will cost $100,000 to repair the front steps to the office at 19 Main St. and Crescent Park School requested the town no longer use the gym for voting.

Selectmen asked TDArchitect to determine the cost of either renovating the old school, tearing down the addition and building a 400-seat meeting hall, or razing it and building a town hall.

Mold is the primary reason the addition would be demolished.

Dickerson, who evaluated the school a few years ago, said he thinks keeping the original building is the better option because of the overall cost.

Much of the exterior, including windows, would have to be removed and the building would need to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards and the energy code.

“If you demolish and start from scratch, you’ll probably end up with a better building as far as energy efficiency and systems,” Dickerson said. But the town should take into consideration the historical value and the fact that the new building would be more expensive, even though it would be cheaper to operate and maintain, he said.

“While there may be some mold concerns in the addition, it appears the original structure can be safely renovated and remodeled into a functional and attractive town hall,” Dickerson said in his overview.

Selectman Lori Swain wondered if there was asbestos in the school.

Town Clerk Christen Mason said all asbestos was removed when the superintendent’s office was there.

The entire building was evaluated a couple of years ago, according to town officials.

Selectman Michele Varuolo Cole suggested tabling discussion until all selectmen were present.

Selectman Pete Southam was absent, and, because Andy Whitney resigned as of March 1, there are only four members until elections in June.

Cole made the motion to table discussion and it was approved unanimously.

The one-story school was built in 1925 as Bethel Primary School. It was renamed in 1963 for Ethel Philbrick Bisbee, who taught in Bethel from 1916 until her retirement in 1963. She died in 1972 at the age of 77, according to The Bethel Journals.

The property has been on the market for some time, but there have been no serious offers, according to town officials.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, selectmen approved appointing Fran Head to the Budget Committee for three years. There is a vacant two-year seat.


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