Replacing town hall discussed

BROWNSTOWN

The county seat’s town hall and police, fire and street departments already are in the same building.

But that facility is 75 years old, isn’t energy-efficient and does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Talk recently began about a new complex. Everyone agreed a new building is needed, but a project hinges on finding the money.

Brownstown Town Council President John Nolting said that, while the town is on a “pretty tight” budget, a new building is on his wish list.

“I’d be all for it. Of course, it’s like anything else, it’s always wishing in one hand. … It still takes money,” he said.

“It makes sense to try to work everybody in together if at all possible,” he said of keeping all departments in the same building. “I think it’s good to get the conversation started.”

Tim Warren, president of the Brownstown Township Fire Protection District, recently went before the town council to present his board’s thoughts.

He said the district owns land next to the building and is trying to determine if it’s best to build new or renovate and possibly expand the current structure. He said he prefers to keep all of the departments together.

One reason to expand is to improve the fire district’s insurance service office rating, Warren said.

“That determines what you’re going to pay on insurance, and it basically affects businesses more than anything else,” Warren said. “We’re looking at trying to keep that down so businesses’ insurance will not rise.”

Police Chief Tom Hanner said he appreciates the fire district’s willingness to include everyone in the conversation, and he is “totally on board” with working together on a new facility. He said he thinks the current building, which once served as the town’s library, is beyond rehabilitation. The building originally was constructed as the headquarters for Jackson County REMC.

One of the benefits of a new complex would be sharing a large conference room for training purposes, he said.

“We have certified instructors, and we could host training here and charge and develop some revenue,” Hanner said. “I get faxes wanting to know if we have instructors and if we would host in-service training. That’s something we would be very proud of.”

Warren asked the town’s grant consultant, Shannon McLeod, about applying for a grant to build a new facility.

McLeod said she worked on a similar project in the northern Indiana town of Walkerton, which wanted a new building to house the town offices and police and fire departments. The cost was $1.8 million.

In that case, the town applied for a planning grant and had an architect look at the existing building so they could see if it should build new or renovate. That also gave them cost estimates.

“You could get up to $50,000 to do that for a 10 percent match,” McLeod said of a planning grant. “Then, once that was completed, you knew where you were going and had cost estimates. Then, you would go to the funding agencies.”

In Walkerton, the funding agency was the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the town received a community facilities grant loan that it financed for 40 years.

Since Brownstown is seeking grants for a sewer project and a downtown park, McLeod suggested waiting until the beginning of next year to apply for a grant for a new town building.

However, if the town doesn’t receive one of the grants it has applied for, McLeod said, that could open up a window of opportunity to apply.

Warren said it’s good to see discussion begin on the possibilities.

“It’s great for the community, I think, if we want the community to grow and be a better place,” he said. “I basically don’t want to just sweep this under the carpet and in two years come back and say, ‘What happened to that?’ That’s something we don’t need to do. We need to at least try to act on seeing what we can come out with for all of us.”

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.