After spending an hour discussing potential futures for Avon Hall, the Washington town council accepted a contract from Mark Ferris to paint the roof of the town-owned former estate’s main building — pending the council’s approval of the paint, primer and completion time.
Mayor John Fox Sullivan began Monday night’s monthly meeting (Jan. 13) by reminding the council that retired contractor Peter Kreyling, “an expert on old buildings,” gave the town advice on the state of Avon Hall — namely, that the roof needs to be painted, and sooner would be better. To that end, Sullivan said he’d received bids from Ferris to paint the roof and the exterior.
The discussion then turned, as discussions of Avon Hall often do, toward the “future” of the building, and what the council members would like to see happen with it. “The roof is a no-brainer,” said council member Patrick O’Connell. “But I’ve never understood the reluctance on the part of this council put it up for sale.”
O’Connell added that restoring the building “to its glory days — or beyond,” would likely require a complete gutting of the building, and would cost about $2.5 million. “The best and highest use for that building is to fix it up properly,” O’Connell said. “However, I think it’s unwise to paint [the whole building] until we know more about its condition.”
“I think at this point it’s still unclear what we want it to be,” Sullivan added. “But it’d be wise to shape its usage while we still own it . . . [into] something productive for the town. A priority is to figure out what to do with it this year.”
After some prodding by the council, O’Connell floated the idea of leasing the building on a long-term basis, and added that he knew of several schools that would be interested in a restored version. In particular, O’Connell mentioned that he’d been contacted by the French Culinary Institute, which he said was interested in using Avon Hall as a butler training school — with some connection, of course, to O’Connell’s world-famous Inn at Little Washington.
Council member Daniel Spethmann agreed that the property “lends itself well to [being used as] grounds.” The main house, he said, has “beautiful bones, but it’s going to need to be taken down to its bones.”
The rest of the council (minus the absent Alice Butler) seemed to agree with that assessment, and signed Ferris’ contract to paint the roof ($7,800 total with a $3,500 deposit) — pending, the council added, final approval of the kind of paint and primer Ferris would be using, as well as a firm timetable for completing the job.
Furthermore, council members Spethmann and Mary Ann Kuhn agreed to further investigate the state of the building and determine how extensive any possible repairs would be, much to the delight of the small crowd in attendance.
“This has been a really great meeting,” said Nancy Buntin, a regular attendee at the council’s meetings. “You’ve built up some momentum here, some traction, and I hope you continue in this direction.”
“I support the idea of using it for public use,” added Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin. “All I ask is that, whatever you decide to do with it, you ask yourself what Bill and Ramona [Carrigan, the former owners] would have wanted.”
Election season in this Washington begins on May 6, said Sullivan, but candidates wishing to run for any of the open seats — the entire town council, including mayor and treasurer — must file the required forms with county registrar of voters Kimberly McKiernan by 7 p.m. March 4.
“This is as good a time as any to announce that I’m running for mayor again,” added Sullivan.
At the beginning of the meeting, Sullivan announced that the town’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) had approved, among other projects, seven street lights for the Trinity parking lot — part of a cooperative renovation project between the Inn and the church.
O’Connell said the posts themselves should be here within a week, while the tops should arrive within four weeks. “I noticed recently just how dark it is out there now,” said Spethmann.
“The lights should make everyone feel safe and secure, especially visitors to the town who may not know where they are,” O’Connell replied, “and supply enough light for the church’s back door.” Furthermore, O’Connell said that for a “not inexpensive” donation (under $2,000, though no exact figure was given), anyone wishing to could purchase a small bronze commemorative plaque on one of the poles.
“Anyone who wants to can help light up the town,” said a smiling O’Connell.