RICHMOND — For the first time, this spread-out rural town will have a “downtown” following a lopsided annual town meeting victory to fund a town hall, library and community center on town-owned land just north of the Richmond Consolidated School.

A near-record turnout of more than 300 residents crowded into spaced-out seats, bleachers and standing room areas in the school gymnasium, cafeteria and hallways for the keenly anticipated vote to finance the project through a 30-year bond of up to $6.8 million, at a low 2.5 percent interest rate.

Cheers and vigorous applause greeted Town Moderator William E. Martin’s announcement of the secret ballot tally. A supermajority of two-thirds was needed for passage. Much to the pleasant surprise of project advocates, there were 270 “yes” and only 34 “no” votes, well above the 203 needed for approval.

About 25 percent of the town’s 1,239 registered voters turned out for the meeting that began 35 minutes late as long lines of residents picked up ballots and informational packets at the door.

The project to replace the 100-year-old, badly deteriorated Town Hall and cramped, rented library space on Route 41 near the West Stockbridge line is the largest since the school’s expansion and renovation 20 years ago. Two previous attempts to fund a town hall and library fell short by a handful of votes in 2002 and 2005.

Building Committee Chairwoman Pat Callahan won a round of cheers after Wednesday night’s approval. She had shepherded the project through more than three years of planning and eight remote informational meetings.

“I was especially gratified by the turnout,” Callahan told The Eagle. “The committee worked hard to tell residents about the project and we are very pleased with the support to move forward.”

At Saturday’s annual town election, a simple majority approval is needed to exclude the center’s financing costs from a property tax limitation known as Proposition 2 1/2. A “yes” vote on the ballot question gives the project the final go-ahead. Polls will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, with no contested races for municipal offices on the ballot.

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An artist’s conceptual view of the proposed town center, including an outdoor gathering space, which would include town offices, a community center and library. 

Detailed design needs to be finalized and construction drawings completed so the project can go out to bid, Callahan said. The best-case scenario is completion and building occupancy in 2023.

Other advocates for the center included Town Administrator Danielle Fillio, Select Board Chairman Alan Hanson, members Roger Manzolini and Neal Pilson, Finance Committee Chairman Robert Gniadek and his committee members.

Much to the surprise of town officials, only two voters stepped up to the microphone to pose questions.

In response to resident Fred Schubert’s concern about “dramatically escalating costs” that could lead to construction bids above $6.8 million, Manzolini said project managers have verified the adequacy of the budget. Callahan pointed out that $500,000 is built in to the total financing to cover possible cost increases. If necessary, redesign is possible to keep the bids aligned with the approved bond.

Bids can be rejected and a future town meeting could alter the requested funding, said Town Counsel Beth Goodman.

Richmond Town Hall (copy)

Richmond's current Town Hall building will be put up for sale "as is" now that voters have approved construction of a new Town Center just south of the existing building on State Road (Route 41).

As for the future of the current Town Hall, Manzolini said it would be put up for sale “as is.” If no buyers respond, it would be demolished to “take it off the town’s books. We have no plans to keep the building.” It would have required at least $3 million to bring the Town Hall up to code, he added.

Pilson noted that any decisions on the future of the existing building would be brought to voters.

Resident Robert Harrison voiced concern that the aging of the town’s population might lead to a decision to join another school district, leaving the current building empty “and we might be kicking ourselves for having built a new one when this one would become available.”

In response, Pilson noted that the school is gaining enrollment, a majority of students are from Richmond and there is less dependence on school-choice students from other communities. “This school is healthy, we are having young people moving in” because “Richmond is a magnet school and a magnet town,” he said, citing real estate brokers.

“This town is strong and it has a vibrant student population,” Pilson said. The school would be even more attractive to potential new residents if the project is built, he added.

With no additional speakers, Martin, the town moderator, called for the secret vote, commenting that the lack of additional discussion reflected the hard work, preparation and effective community outreach by the building committee.

Voters needed only a half-hour to sail through the rest of the town meeting warrant.

Without discussion, they approved by strong majorities the operating budget of nearly $2.4 million for fiscal 2022, up only 1.7 percent over the current year.

The school budget of just under $4 million also passed easily despite a 4 percent increase caused primarily by legally mandated special education expenses, mostly reimbursed by the state.

Total town spending for all fiscal 2022 expenses is up by $442,000, a 6 percent increase over the current year. The bottom line total is $7,660,000, yielding a property tax rate hike estimated at $1.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The preliminary tax rate of $13.80 represents an 8.6 percent rise over fiscal 2021, which expires June 30.

Including the tax impact of the Town Center project’s financing, the owner of a median-priced $362,000 house can expect an estimated tax increase of $398, compared to the current year’s tax payment of $4,601. The estimated tax bill for the median-priced home in fiscal 2022 would be $4,999, Gniadek, the Finance Committee chairman, told The Eagle.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.