Wilmington Town Clerk Susan Haughwout. (Reformer file photo)
Wilmington Town Clerk Susan Haughwout. (Reformer file photo)

WILMINGTON -- The town finally will be able to start digitizing all of its official records, thus protecting them from future floods, thanks to the recent approval of a disaster recovery grant.

Waters from Tropical Storm Irene that ravaged Wilmington's downtown area had threatened town documents that were rescued by Town Clerk Susie Haughwout, minutes before other documents that had been left behind were ruined. Since then, there has been momentum for making all future and past records digital.

"We're really excited about this," said Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy. "It's a much-needed project because basically, all of our vital town records were flooded or close to flooded if it weren't for the Town Clerk, who pulled the documents out of the vault before the flood waters got in here."

On Sept. 18, Murphy announced the news of the approval at the Selectboard meeting. He later told the Reformer that some town employees were a bit concerned that the grant wouldn't be approved pending the application's review.

This grant is for implementation, while the other two grants approved in this round of Community Development Grant Block Disaster Recovery funding were for planning.

"The difference is they give you funding for the project versus planning, where you're looking for a study to come out for a work project that you can build on in the future," said Murphy.

The planning grants were for the possible co-relocation of the town's police and fire department buildings and then the feasibility study that will be looking at potential uses of the Twin Valley High School, which will become a vacant building once construction at the Twin Valley Middle School site in Whitingham is completed.

The approval of the digitization grant means that Wilmington will receive $157,542 for a project that will cost $173,000. The town is required to come up with the remaining 10 percent.

About 200,000 pages of documents will be secured through the digitization efforts. The final product will be available through a searchable digital documentation library, which Murphy says will be "very hands-on and accessible for the public."

Digitizing the Wilmington town records has been an on-going project since May.

"There will be some tough conditions of the grant. We'll get there. It will just be a process," said Murphy.

Haughwout told the Reformer that she had been out of the office for three days of training and found out at the Selectboard meeting that the grant had been secured.

"I don't really know exactly what the historical awarding of CDBG grants is like," she said. "I wasn't really expecting a full award, but I was hoping for it. I thought there might be competition for this money and I'm not sure, but I think that this might be a grant that is the first of its kind because digitization is so new. The reason this qualified was because the records are back when the event occurred, so they are still potentially at risk for a flooding hazard."

The records that are mentioned in the application would qualify because the files are "still residing in the very same place where the hazard exists," said Haughwout.

Saving the records had been a result of her coming down to the Wilmington Town Offices because she was worried. As water from the Deerfield River came over the bridge, she moved quickly to determine what must be saved.

"Had we not done that, the records would have been damaged and potentially lost," said Haughwout. "So, clearly we have a need."

There will be a bidding process for the implementation of the project, which members of a CDBG board will assist with putting into motion.

Currently, land records are being put through a digitization program by Haughwout. Records from May of this year until now are all including in digital documentation.

"What this grant will allow me to essentially do is take records from April of 2013 back to the beginning of records in the vault, which is 1797, and be able to begin the process of digitizing land records, some vital records, town meeting records, survey maps and town reports, among other miscellaneous documents," said Haughwout.

Estimating a total cost for the project was done by counting or estimating pages that would need to be entered in the system from the late 1700s to 2013. Some documents, such as school records and other documents that are rarely ever requested for viewing, were lost in the flood.

Over the summer, Haughwout with assistance from an intern from Twin Valley High School began to back-fill the system. In a month, they had completed three volumes worth of data. With the grant, the task will be less time consuming, as a vendor will be chosen after the bid for the work goes out. The vendor will quicken the process.

Murphy mentioned that another round of CDBG-DR funding had been announced for next year, which the town may apply for. Requirements and conditions for those applications have not yet been defined.

"We have a couple of different options," said Murphy. "One might be a continuation of the co-relocation process, once we get the planning study done for what the best location might be."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.