Paint or Vinyl for Historic Post Office Building? Still No Decision

CHESTER – Though the board of selectmen included funding for the painting of the post office in the budget approved last May, that work has not yet been initiated, and at their Dec. 12 meeting, selectmen again argued about whether the building should be covered in paint or vinyl siding.

While the line item in the budget was described to voters to be for painting, selectman maintenance liaison Rich LeBlanc has stated his opinion that it would be wiser to use vinyl on the building. Ever since LeBlanc made it clear that he wants vinyl siding, the project has been stalled and selectmen have been at odds over what is to be done. Various initiatives for getting the ball rolling have not been followed through.
In early July of this year, the selectmen initially battled over how the building should be protected.
The Ruth Ray building has a long history and once housed the Webster Brothers store, run by Ray’s father. The building on that site burned down on three different occasions but the latest incarnation came on the scene in 1884.
The town approved $47,000 for the job of painting the building, but LeBlanc had vinyl contractors take a look, and took their pitch and informal bids to the selectmen in July.
LeBlanc argued that the buildings in town rarely get painted on schedule and vinyl would be a better alternative, given what he said was its longer life.
In response, selectmen Jack Cannon and chair Steph Landau said the board had done its best to take care of buildings with recent years’ limited budgets. That being said, the best estimate that Landau gives for the last paint job was more than three decades ago.
A dispute about what to do with the building ended with the board’s deciding to have bid specifications drawn up for both paint and vinyl. However, that didn’t occur.
At a meeting later in July, the board agreed to bring in a representative from the town engineering company. After the engineer gave them the technical details, members said, they would decide on paint or vinyl and draw up a scope of work.
This also did not take place.
And when selectman Joe Castricone asked what the news on the project was on Dec. 12, LeBlanc said the engineer he directed the town maintenance man to speak with had said that vinyl was “a no brainer” for the building and that he shouldn’t even ask about painting it.
“That’s what they said, OK?” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc said the engineer in question was supposed to have contacted Landau, but Landau had no memory of such a discussion. Landau said he’d be much more comfortable with an opinion in writing.
LeBlanc’s news didn’t sit well with either Cannon or Landau, who are both against vinyl siding.
Cannon has also taken exception to the informal way LeBlanc has obtained bids for work in the past, arguing that without a proper scope of work, there was no way of telling what each company was bidding on.
Cannon said he wouldn’t be at the next meeting, but if the board considers making a motion on the matter, then the public should make itself heard.
“I would encourage every single resident in this town who doesn’t think we should side the post office to come here and tell the board what a bad idea it is,” said Cannon.
The historical society was polled by the Tri-Town Times earlier in the year as to whether it would be in favor of vinyl, and 100 percent of the membership was against the move.
Later LeBlanc took issue with Cannon’s tone. After explaining how a contractor told him he would handle the work, LeBlanc said he wasn’t trying to pick a fight.
“All we were trying to do is look at what is most feasible and makes more sense. Because I have an idea, it doesn’t mean that I’m the last word on it, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to fight with anyone on this board. I just had an idea and I thought it made sense. If you don’t like my idea, then tough!” said LeBlanc.
Landau suggested the board seek a Request for Proposal (RFP) for both paint and siding, harking back to July’s effort.
“In my mind we have to make a decision. And I really don’t want to just go ahead and say, ‘Let’s side the building,’” said Landau.
Castricone made a motion to write an RFP for both paint and vinyl, to which all but Cannon agreed. Cannon questioned who would write up the RFP, surmising that it shouldn’t be a contractor. “Who’s going to write it, the guy who promoted it in the first place?” he asked.
LeBlanc said he would work on the RFP and its specifications with town maintenance man Tony Amato.

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