Ancram asks: Whose siding are you on?

ANCRAM–Paint or plastic?

The Town Board voted at its October 15 meeting to award a contract to the sole bidder for installing vinyl siding on the Town Hall. It will cost almost $24,000.

Much confusion surrounded the bid opening the night of the meeting. The action was not on the agenda, and some residents believe the board never publicly discussed the need to do anything about the Town Hall exterior nor did board members vote in public to solicit bids for vinyl siding.

Since the board’s action, 125 people have signed a petition demanding that voters be allowed to decide whether to go forward with the expenditure, not only because there has been no public discussion about it but because vinyl will “substantially alter” the Town Hall’s appearance. A petition submitted to the town clerk October 19 also says that vinyl threatens firefighters and the environment.

It’s hard for some to believe that the new Town Hall at 1416 County Route 7 is now six years old.

The Town Board conducted its first public meeting there May 20, 2003 and the structure was formally dedicated at Ancram’s three-day bicentennial celebration September 12-14, 2003.

Though six-years may not seem like a long time, paint does not last as long as it once did now that it no longer contains lead, and the Town Hall’s visible need for a new coat of paint did not particularly surprise Town Justice George Wittlinger, who also serves as the Town Hall building manager.

Judge Wittlinger told The Columbia Paper, Tuesday that he informed the Town Board of the need for paint last year, when the white vertical board and batten wood siding started “showing some flaking and mildew.”

The board didn’t do anything about it last year, so the judge brought it up again this year. He said he was initially told by Town Supervisor Thomas Dias to get estimates on the cost of painting the building, but the supervisor later told him to forget about paint and compile specifications for vinyl siding.

Judge Wittlinger, who served on the original committee assigned to get the new Town Hall built, said the supervisor wanted the specifications to be for a cream-colored horizontal vinyl siding, which in the judge’s opinion, would not only “spoil” the intended look of the Town Hall, but would require the removal of all the existing wood siding. The judge said a pressure wash and a coat of paint would take care of the situation and the cost estimate he obtained for the job was $14,000.

The long, rectangular, one-story Town Hall with a two-story tower placed off-center is about 5,000 square feet in area and was designed to have the look of a barn so it would be compatible with “a farm community,” said Gerald Roberts, who served as chairman of the Town Hall Committee. The committee debated the use of vinyl siding, but in the end decided it did not fit with the “period-type structure,” that the committee considered envisioned for the new Town Hall. The total cost of the structure was $550,000.

Christopher “Kit” White, the Ancram resident who mounted the petition drive in opposition to vinyl siding, said his motivation was based on numerous issues, and apparently many residents agree.

Besides the lack of both public discussion and a public vote on putting the job out for bid, no mention of which can be found anywhere in the meeting minutes for the last three months, Mr. White cited the lack of competitive bids. He said that the town should be trying to save money, and the expenditure for vinyl siding or even for a paint job is not one that has to be made right now.

No cost analysis for the project was done and the only rationale the board gave for the vinyl siding was so the Town Hall would never have to be painted again, he said.

An architect who worked as a builder for many years, Mr. White said vinyl is not permanent. While it may last for 20 years before it starts cracking and oxidizing, someday it will need to be sanded and painted and paint doesn’t stick to it very well.

Mr. White called vinyl siding “the worst possible solution” with Town Hall’s mildew woes, because it does not “breathe.” If placed over the mildew, it will drive it into the building, which would “take a healthy building and make it unhealthy,” he said. He also noted the toxic threat from vinyl should a fire break out. “Polyvinyl chloride is toxic up to a mile and half away” making it hazardous not only to firefighters, but anyone in the neighborhood, he said.

The Town Board has expressed a desire to make the Town Hall a “green building” by installing solar panels, but vinyl “is completely the wrong material” to reach that goal, he said.

Mr. White went on to criticize how horizontal vinyl siding will make the “low-slung” Town Hall look “totally squat” and cause it “to lose all of its light.”

His most compelling argument for a public referendum on the matter may be simply that the Town Hall “was built with the taxpayers’ money. It belongs to the taxpayers not the town council,” said Mr. White, adding that its public status makes it imperative that taxpayers have a say about any changes.

Asked whether the vinyl-siding issue qualifies for a permissive referendum, Town Attorney Jason Shaw said this week that he has not yet had the chance to investigate whether this is one of the limited number of circumstances for which a town may call for voter approval. He said he has not yet discussed the matter with the Town Board, either.

He did say that hypothetically, “ordinarily when an town is going to do any kind of public works project it would be voted on by the Town Board” and that vote has to take place in public session.

Supervisor Dias did not respond to an email request for comment and could not be reached by phone.

The Town Board met November 5.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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