Town of Woodstock employees say they fear for their safety as the weight of several file cabinets has compromised the structure of the Comeau office building’s second floor.
They raised those concerns during an April 20 discussion of a proposed $2.3 million renovation of the former home and the separate cottage containing the supervisor’s and bookkeeper’s offices.
“One of these days I am afraid that the second floor will end up on the first floor. The weight of the second floor is not good,” said assessor’s office employee Karen Shultis in a letter read by another employee, Kristen Christofora.
“In the new addition, I see that there is a file room for my office along with basement space in which to store records that are not used every day,” she said.
“The second floor is not ADA compliant. During exemption time, especially, my office has senior citizens along with physically disabled taxpayers that have to climb the stairs submit their application for tax reduction. We have mentioned to them that we would come down the stairs to meet them, however, many are too proud to ask for this service.”
In her letter, Shultis added the antiquated heating system is also a safety concern and a waste of energy.
“In the winter, I have to run a portable heater in order to keep my office warm enough to work. In the summer, I we have window air conditioners to keep it cool. This is a waste of electricity,” she said.
“There isn’t a way out of the building in case there was a fire, which is extremely terrifying,” said Christofora, who works in the building department.
“In the building department alone, we have 13 heavy, full file cabinets. The planning office has, I believe four and the assessor’s office has approximately 15 file cabinets,” she said.
“The weight of them combined well surpasses the weight that should be upstairs. The floors are sagging and are soft. I’m afraid someday that it will collapse,” she said.
“Can you imagine the lawsuits the town would incur if anything dangerous happened to any of us? The town is rapidly changing, but we are falling behind taking care of the public and employees’ safety in this building,” she added.
“You know I enjoy my job very much. I love the people I work with. It’s like a big family, but it is pretty terrifying. You know, when I think of, especially if a fire ever happened, people falling down the stairs, myself included today,” Christofora said.
“I was going to bring a box down the stairs. And I did not have sneakers on; I had regular work shoes on. And I just stopped at the top of the stairs and said, You know what, I’m not bringing it down the stairs because I might end up at the bottom of the stairs.”
Supervisor Bill McKenna asked town clerk Jackie Earley if she knew anything about the second floor collapsing onto the first floor.
“I showed it the other day at a Town Board meeting. My ceiling in the town clerk’s office is falling down on us,” Earley said.
“In our kitchen area, the ceiling is falling down on us. And they’re talking about I don’t know how many file cabinets they said were there,” she added.
“You heard just a little bit from Kristen. Go up to the attic. As much as I removed it and took it to the town hall building, there are still multiple file cabinets upstairs. We are destroying the building and we’re making an unsafe place for all of us.”
Earley also expressed concern for the difficulty the public has accessing the offices.
“The building is historical in itself and we are ruining it every single day that we are there. And when you get people that come in that are any kind of disabled, handicapped, have any kind of a precondition, we’re not a welcoming office at all. We need a renovation,” Earley said.
While noting the unsafe conditions and the need for a renovation, the chair of Woodstock’s Commission for Civic Design (CCD) David Ekroth expressed serious concerns about the design and how it relates to the current building’s architecture.
“The problem the CCD has unanimously is that the shed roof forms compete with it. Now, there can be all kinds of design arguments about that, but we feel that those particular forms do not complement the existing building. And I can discuss that all night long, but I won’t,” Ekroth said.
He added an adjustment to the conservation easement that allows municipal user on one acre of a preserve would allow for a less constrained design, but McKenna said the boundary cannot be adjusted if an alternative design can avoid it.
“I want people to understand that we looked at that. And the easement is quite clear that if there is an alternative, you can’t get a lot line adjustment. And this plan and several other renditions prove that there’s, there’s a way to do it,” McKenna said.
Ekroth said an alternative would be to build a building in the back. He also objected to the plan to maintain the supervisor’s and bookkeeper’s office separate from the main building instead of having as many services under one roof.
“I can’t for the life of me understand why you’re doing a new building of between two and three million dollars and not have the main man supervisor and bookkeeper in the new addition where everybody can be under one roof,” Ekroth said.
McKenna contended the town government is already divided with the highway superintendent on one end of town, the police in another and water and sewer in yet another.
“And then we’d still have this vacant building, what would we use it for? It’s not a very green concept at all. And Woodstock is committed to being green,” McKenna said.
Ekroth again advocated for a simple structure in the rear with a separate staff entrance. McKenna grew impatient and said it wasn’t the CCD’s place to redesign the project.
“I’m trying to be respectful, but it’s not the CCDs job to come in and totally redesign or offer different designs, you know, your job is to look at the design and make critiques to help improve the design, not redraw it,” McKenna said.
“The CCD is meant to be advisory, and we’re giving advice. And if you don’t want to take it, don’t take it,” Ekroth responded.
“But the advice is to come up with a whole new design. That’s inappropriate. It’s the number one complaint I get about the Civic design to be honest with you,” McKenna retorted.
“You know, we did a meeting with Civic Design last week, and the other members were far more positive at the meeting than what I’m receiving from you. So it’s a little bit of a mixed message.”