Follow the Facts: Heath Center is not now and never has been under threat. 12/29/2020
Save the Center is more of a concept than a reality. It was invented as a campaign slogan for Bob Bourke’s unsuccessful run for Select Board. It was intended to imply, without evidence, that his opponent, Brian DeVriese, was somehow against saving the center.
The slogan has also been used to imply that
Using the school to meet current challenges has nothing to do, one way or another, with abandoning the center. It’s not a zero-sum game. Some of the town’s needs have been well known to us for many years. Some, like the pandemic and the economic fallout from it, are totally unexpected. The Board is elected to make prudent decisions about the operation of the town based on factual information and real challenges. They cannot do their jobs on the basis of a divisive and misleading campaign slogan. First and foremost, they are responsible for the safety of townspeople and our employees. They have to follow the facts and make their decisions based on the best information they can gather.
Using the school is making the best use of a building we own to meet the needs and challenges the town faces. Not using the school to meet our needs simply means denying ourselves use of a building we own and pay for. It is throwing money away.
Preserving the center and using the former elementary school are not mutually exclusive. Many people in town are committed to both. There is benefit to the town in preserving and using both. In the pandemic, without the former school building, the town would simply not have been able to function safely. The town, the Select Board, our employees and volunteers have invested tax dollars, grant money and considerable effort in improving and maintaining both. As a part of the new Heath Building Use Committee, all of the members of the former School Building Use Committee have enthusiastically embraced the Select Board’s charge to promote and use all available buildings for the benefit of the town and to go after opportunities to use them to generate revenue.
Neither abandoning the center, nor getting rid of 18 Jacobs Road will keep Heath’s tax rate from rising. The things that are pushing up our tax rate are our school costs and the cost of financing Broadband. Were we to sell either the school or the center buildings we might see a short-term reprieve, but in the long run, the taxes would continue to rise. Meanwhile, two separate town facilities task forces have shown that the buildings in Heath Center are inadequate to meet our needs now, let alone in the future. Given this, the only hope Heath has for meeting its building needs is to use the buildings we own. So far, we have not heard of any affordable alternative.
Finally, no one on our Select Board, neither Brian DeVriese, nor Robyn Provost Carlson, nor Gloria Fisher has ever, in any way, demonstrated by word or action any interest in abandoning the center. In fact, they have worked diligently to preserve and improve it. In particular, Brian and Robyn have put in many hours of their considerable building expertise and effort toward preserving and improving it. At the same time, they have helped the town realize revenue from the former school building and approved and encouraged projects that have brought benefits to the town at minimal cost to taxpayers.
Here is a list of just some of the building projects of just the past year to eighteen months,
It’s time to stop imagining bad things and acknowledge and build on the many ways our Select Board, employees and neighbors are working hard to preserve and maintain the town we all love. We need to put all of our assets to work to keep the town and its employees functioning and safe to the best of our abilities. It’s time to focus on facts and pull together to meet the very real and serious challenges we face.
- Pam Porter
Before anyone living today was born, there was Heath. A town with a rich history. A town that in the mid-nineteenth century boasted nine schoolhouses within walking distance of the children’s homes. A town whose historic center had three protestant churches: Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Baptist church was torn down, and the three churches combined into the Union church as it still exists today. A town that by the turn of the twentieth century had emerged from its existence as a quiet settlement of farmers and parsons and doctors to embrace the influx of summer residents seeking temporary respite from city life to enjoy fresh air, natural locally grown food, and the beauty of the surrounding hills. And after everyone living today is gone, there will still be Heath. Life is change. What will be our contribution to future generations living here?
Over the two centuries of its existence, Heath Center has seen many changes, both to its appearance and its life. Its first building in 1785 was a schoolhouse, erected on a lot where the Community Hall now stands. Three years later, town meetings began to be held in the building. The first meeting house, erected in 1786, stood on a one-acre lot that became the town common. It was demolished in 1834 after the new meeting house (now the Union Church) was built in 1833. Part of its materials may have been used to erect the town house for public meetings. In the nineteenth century, the Common was used for haying and surrounded by houses, a creamery, shops, liquor stores, horse sheds, blacksmith, an inn, schools, and churches.
Calver’s history records the many changes the Center has experienced. Houses were built, torn down, or burnt. When the Baptist Church was dissolved in 1884, Hugh Maxwell bought the building and moved it to his house on West Main Street to use as a barn. The shop selling fertilizer became a shop selling matches and then a private dwelling. In the nineteenth century, its Common sported town scales for local farmers to weigh their produce on the way to market and was the site of stocks for public exposure of people who had committed some or other infraction against the town and its people. It had an active grocery store and post office until 1956 (now the home of the Gruens). The Red House Inn and Tavern, the center of many gatherings and activities, was torn down in 1897 to become the site of the town library and Grange at Sawyer Hall. The Grange attracted many local events and sported a private pool room for members until by 1979 it was suffering decline. When the Methodist Church, that had a store in its lower level, was deeded by the Historical Society to the town, it became the Community Hall, with many ongoing events including square dancing, town suppers, talks, exhibitions, and the site for election voting. It became the location of the Senior Center in 2004.
Today, the Historic Center is much less active as a gathering place for community activities. Sawyer Hall stopped functioning as a Grange when town offices were moved into the building in 1980. With the grocery store no longer existing, the post office was located in what is now Sharon Brauer’s place, when Esther Dickinson was postmistress, before it moved into its current quarters in Sawyer Hall. Although events still take place in Community Hall, notably the annual Art Exhibit and the Historic Society’s Dining with History, monthly senior luncheons and programs, and is the current location of the town nurse, it has limited occupancy possibilities for major events, like the annual town meeting, and needs extensive restorative work to bring it up to state code. Sawyer Hall is also in need of rethinking its usage and space needs.
So, how to bring the Historic Center back to life? Do nothing is not an option if we want to secure a positive and fiscally workable future for our town. We do not yet know how the coming of broadband will affect our future, whether with more families moving to Heath or the possibility of attracting much-needed business opportunities to enhance our tax rate. But we all agree that whatever ensues, Heath needs to respect, renew, and add to its rich history by revitalizing Heath Center. The only way the Center has ever survived is by changing with the times and needs of the town. We shouldn’t fear change. Instead, we need to make a short- and long- range strategic plan. Several ideas have already been bruited abroad. Can we work together to brainstorm a strategic plan for the Historic Center – and Heath’s future?
The Confusing "Save the Center" Message 12/262020
To the Heath Select Board.
Although the Town needs to make a long-term decision on the use of its buildings, an immediate decision must be made regarding the best way to continue Town services through the pandemic. You have received much input on what individuals believe you should do. However, I find the active members of the Save Heath Center group often send messages and take actions that I find conflicting and confusing.
They express concern about maintaining the historical value of the center yet never question the impact that solar panels might have on the quaint image they wish to maintain. As members of the Historical Society, they have asked the town to make property available to them in the center to build an environmentally controlled building for their more delicate historical artifacts, yet when asked if they might be interested in the Community Hall which could be modified for that purpose, they stated they could not afford to take on any more buildings. They are against moving town employees out of the Town Hall to Jacobs Road because it would empty the building, but they would support them working from home, which of course would also leave the building empty.
They continually express concern about the tax rate, yet never acknowledge that the real reason our taxes are so high has nothing to do with any of our buildings. The high costs of Broadband, the Mohawk school budget, stagnant property values, protected lands that are not taxable, diminishing support from the state are the significant factors impacting our taxes. They are the same people who supported the use of $200,000 (raised from our tax dollars) from the stabilization fund to help make broadband more affordable, while they complain about the dire tax situation in town. Although verbal promises of repayment were made there is no signed contract to specify how and when that will be repaid. These are emergency funds we could have used to address more pressing financial issues such as the salt shed that threatens a physical and environmental disaster, paying off loans in advance or offsets on the tax rate they express concern about.
They complain that town officials want to destroy the center at the same time they call upon these same individuals who volunteer many hours every week helping to plan and implement ways to improve the buildings they are accused of trying to destroy. They say they want to protect the life of the center when many of us see the energy of the center slowly seeping away and a desperate need to revitalize it. What I see repeatedly in the actions and words of proponents of Save the Center is the impact of Not-In-My-Backyard Syndrome. It is understandable that they want to protect their neighborhood. It is a part of their daily social lives. I get that. I believe there are things that can be done to support revitalization of the center. Taking one’s personal fears and falsely transferring them to the actions of others does not help. Preventing change is not the solution.
Times change, needs change. As our elected officials, the three of you-Gloria, Brian, and Robyn-have a responsibility to serve the best interest of the town not the best interest of one faction. You cannot ignore the safety concerns expressed by town individuals. You have tried a number of solutions that have not been successful. The post office is a complicating factor in the situation. Other towns have been able to close their town buildings to the public. Heath can’t do that because the same building houses the post office. Closing the building puts the post office at risk. Moving the more active parts of the town government to a safer location makes sense in our situation. Once again, I encourage you to act and approve a move to Jacobs Road.
Thank you for your consideration.