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Whately rejects Town Hall project

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  • Students look for family members after arriving at a shopping center parking lot in Wood Village, Ore., after a shooting at Reynolds High School Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in nearby Troutdale. A gunman killed a student at the high school east of Portland Tuesday and the shooter is also dead, police said..  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

    Students look for family members after arriving at a shopping center parking lot in Wood Village, Ore., after a shooting at Reynolds High School Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in nearby Troutdale. A gunman killed a student at the high school east of Portland Tuesday and the shooter is also dead, police said.. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Students look for family members after arriving at a shopping center parking lot in Wood Village, Ore., after a shooting at Reynolds High School Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in nearby Troutdale. A gunman killed a student at the high school east of Portland Tuesday and the shooter is also dead, police said..  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

WHATELY — After overwhelmingly supporting the project at town meeting this year, townspeople changed their minds at the last minute, voting down the $3.9 million Town Hall project.

Sixty-one percent of townspeople voted Tuesday against a debt exclusion to borrow the money to renovate and expand the historic town hall.

A total 344 residents voted no to Question One and 213 voted yes.

With no contested races, the Town Hall question drew 50 percent of voters to the polls, a high turnout for the small town.

The townspeople’s decision was a surprise turnabout.

Townspeople supported the proposal four separate times since 2011. Most recently, town meeting voters in May supported the financing of the project plans.

Despite the early support, an opposition group arguing against higher taxes gained traction in the last few weeks.

In the week leading up to the vote, several signs were posted on Whately lawns, asking neighbors to vote “no” on Question One.

Two Finance Committee members, Joseph Zewinski and Robert Fydenkevez and a resident, John Wroblewski, led the opposition, writing a letter to The Recorder stating the project was too expensive for taxpayers.

“I’m very pleased,” Zewinski said. “The numbers speak for themselves to what the residents of Whately really want. Continuing to put new money into an old building is throwing good money into bad.

“We can go back to the drawing board to see what the town can do for the Town Hall with reasonable finances. We could downsize or look for space elsewhere,” Zewinski continued.

Chairman of the Municipal Building Committee, Jonathan Edwards, a selectman, declined to comment on specifics Tuesday night.

“I don’t know what goes on from here. The project has no support,” Edwards said.

Edwards had led the volunteer group over the past two and a half years to get the project to the town meeting floor and onto the ballot.

For now, the town offices will continue to be split between the Center School and Town Hall.

Proponents and project designers Jones Whitsett Architects of Greenfield said the project would have included a two-story addition plus a basement that could be used for meeting space.

Advocates argued the project would have eliminated longtime problems in the 170-year-old historic building on Chestnut Plain Road. Issues included a lack of elevators to provide access to the second floor, uninsulated walls and rot and animal droppings in the attic.

Townspeople also re-elected incumbents to nine uncontested seats.

∎ Paul Newlin will serve a three-year term as selectman.

∎ Melanie Chorak will serve a three-year term as assessor.

∎ Ronnie Williams won a three-year term on the Board of Health.

∎ Donald Skroski secured a three-year term on the Whately School Committee.

∎ Robert Duda and Sheila Powers won three-year terms as library trustees. Lawrence Ashman secured a one-year term as trustee.

∎ Paul M. Fleuriel Jr. won another one-year term as moderator.

∎ John LaSalle was elected to a one-year seat as elector under the will of Oliver Smith.

∎ Georgeann Dufault was elected to a three-year term on the Water Commission.

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