Housing considered at Municipal Center

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BRATTLEBORO — In coming years, the Municipal Center may add housing to its list of uses.

"The Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and the town are forming a partnership to renovate the Municipal Center," Town Manager Peter Elwell said Tuesday at the Select Board meeting. "The intent is to share the building with municipal offices and meeting rooms on the first two floors, and housing on the top two floors of the building. Beyond that conceptual framework, we have a lot of work to do on refining the details of this and we'll be back to talk about it at future Select Board meetings."

He said questions about ownership, scheduling, financing and project management still need to be figured out. The matter had been the topic of several executive sessions with the Select Board.

Elwell looks at the project as one that would restore a historic landmark with upgrades to the building, increase the town's grand list and offer downtown housing with onsite parking.

"The basement will be upgraded to nice, bright space and will be where [Brattleboro Community Television, Brattleboro Community Justice Center] and the town's meeting rooms will be located," he said in an email. "All of the town's administrative offices will be located on the first floor."

There have been questions about what to do with vacant space inside the building since since town staff and the board started talking about relocating the police station out of the building. The police department moved its headquarters to Black Mountain Road two summers ago.

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Regarding the future of the Municipal Center, Elwell last informed the public about a deal with the state that had fallen through last August. State employees who were set to take over some space inside preferred another location.

Elizabeth Bridgewater, executive director of Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, told the Reformer that talks with the town started at the beginning of the year.

"They first approached us and we wanted to do some really early due diligence to see if it was even a viable option for us," she said.

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Bridgewater said a member of the housing trust's project committee, a retired architect, "played around with designs" to see whether work at the Municipal Center would be financially feasible and a consultant on historic issues looked for anything that might be of concern.

"So we passed those two milestones," she said. "So here we are."

Although there is no contract yet or an official estimate on how many apartments would fit, her group likes to see the capacity for 18 to 25 units.

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"We committed to entering this into our pipeline because we have a lot of different options we consider," Bridgewater said. "There's still a lot of things to work out around financing and funding and architectural design."

She said the Municipal Center project would happen within several years. Site planning and design will be needed.

Her group also is looking into potential projects in Bellows Falls and Putney. The Snow Block, a new apartment complex in downtown Brattleboro, is expected to be completed around October.

Positives about the Municipal Center for Bridgewater included the parking, access to downtown, greenspace in front of the building, Brooks Memorial Library next door and community partnership with the town.

"I think it's a really great opportunity for both of us," she said, calling it "another nice option for downtown living that will be wonderful for folks."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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