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Main Street funds OK’d for Durham

At a special town meeting, Jan. 13, approximately two dozen residents of Durham approved a transfer of $42,404 to begin the process of renovating two town-owned buildings on Main Street.

The old buildings are located within the historic district at 37 and 51 Main Street, one to each side of the fire house. The goal, according to Durham First Selectman Laura Francis, who presented the motion, is to renovate the buildings for use by public safety departments.

The funding approved at the meeting will cover consultation and final designs with an eye towards both putting the buildings into use and preserving the historic buildings. Durham has secured a grant from the state to reimburse up to $20,000. The reimbursement will come from a dollar for dollar match from the Connecticut Preservation Trust. “Today we are as close as we have ever been to getting that assistance,” Francis said.

The town has owned the houses for almost 20 years.

According to Francis, if renovated the buildings could be used by the resident state trooper, the Fire Marshall and Fire Department, the ambulance department, and emergency management. Referring to work by town officials including the Public Safety Facilities Renovations Planning Committee, Francis said, “Not only have we determined that they can be renovated to meet historic design standards, but we also have determined how they can programmatically serve the town.”

Francis told the meeting that this would be step two in a four stage renovation project - schematic design, final design, construction documents, and construction.

Francis spoke in favor of the motion. “Historic Main Street is probably one of our biggest assets, one of the things that identifies us ... it’s something we need to protect and preserve.”

Future construction costs could not be definitively stated without final plans and Francis emphasized after the meeting that future construction would also need town approval.

David Heer, who co-chairs the Public Safety Facilities Renovations Planning Committee, spoke in favor of the motion. Heer estimated project costs at $400,000 for the southern building and $600,000 for the northern building.

Selectman Steve Levy spoke in favor of the motion. “It’s time to do what we need to do to take care of our property, to preserve the historic quality of Main Street, to move forward serving the emergency services,” Levy said.

Tom Woodson, chair of the Historic District Commission, also spoke in favor of the motion. Woodson said the buildings were historically significant and an introduction to Durham for travelers from the south. Woodson also noted that the motion was not an approval of the final project, only the design.

Donia Viola objected to the manner and timing of the vote. Viola questioned why the vote was held in winter, at the Town Hall instead of the larger meeting area of the Durham Public Library, and with no absentee ballots.

The motion passed by a voice vote with a few in opposition.

Other motions approved

At the same meeting, Durham residents also approved the initial funding of $35,200 for engineering services related to bridge repair on Coe Road. This funding is also subject to partial grant reimbursement. Bridge repair has been a priority of Governor Malloy, but Francis said the town should take advantage of the grant now before it is “swept.”

The eventual cost of the bridge repair was estimated at $460,000.

Residents also approved the spending of $4,685 for painting of the Durham Public Library lower level and offices, and $4,850 for cemetery stone repair.

After lengthy discussion, Durham residents also approved an ordinance that would exempt cars modified to accommodate persons with disabilities from personal property tax.

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