Numerous Code Violations Close Talent Hall
by Lynne Ober
Rec Commission Chairman Horace Seymour demonstrates that the emergency lighting again is functional.
After a decade of code violations at Talent Hall, Litchfield Board of Selectmen reluctantly voted to close the facility until life and safety code repairs can be made, causing heated discussion and an immediate effect on the youth basketball program. However, with memories of the Rhode Island nightclub fire that took dozens of lives, the selectmen decided on permanent repairs.
“We don’t want to have a tragic incident involving Litchfield kids,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Raymond Peeples.
With December’s heavy snowfall, many found keeping walkways and driveways clean to be a constant battle and the situation at Talent Hall was no different. The emergency exits were blocked with icy snow. Concerned residents reported the issue to the Fire Department.
Fire Chief Tom Schofield called Recreation Commission Chairman Horace Seymour and discussed continued use of Talent Hall. “Horace gave me a schedule and with nothing scheduled prior to Christmas, I thought that we had some time,” reported Schofield.
At the time of that phone call Seymour was not aware that the basketball league, which does its own scheduling, was holding practices Friday night. When Schofield arrived at Talent Hall on Friday, December 21, he found the parking lot full and many adults and basketball players in the hall. Schofield notified selectmen. Selectman Andrew Santom, the Selectmen’s representative to the Recreation Commission, and Selectman Al Raccio responded. Board of Selectman Chairman Raymond Peeples was out of town.
Raccio talked about going into the hall, turning off the lights and finding himself in total blackness. None of the emergency lights worked. The emergency exit door could not be opened from inside because of the snow blockage. Schofield was ordered to inspect the building.
“We can’t have Litchfield kids in a building with no emergency lighting,” said Raccio. “If the lights went out during a basketball practice, the kids would be left in total blackness. That just isn’t safe. Parents have a right to expect that the town maintains Talent Hall in a safe manner.”
On Christmas Eve, Schofield hired Salem Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emanuelson, a certified fire inspector, to inspect Talent Hall at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, December 26. “That’s as quick as I could get somebody out to do the inspection and I wanted someone certified to do it,” said Schofield.
At the 7 p.m. selectmen’s meeting, Schofield presented a memo from Emanuelson that represented a draft report and then went over each item, answering questions from selectmen.
Emanuelson wrote, “This memo is a preliminary report of my finding. … A comprehensive report will be forthcoming once all of the background information is obtained.
During the inspection items were noted as areas of concern that will need to be addressed.
The exterior walkways and exit paths were not properly maintained and kept free and clear of ice and snow. (The Life Safety Code requires a durable all-weather surface from the exit door to the public way. The Life Safety Code further requires this area to be maintained clear of ice and snow at all times.)
- The rear fire escape was full of ice and snow and barely passable.
- The rear fire escape servicing the second floor was structurally damaged.
- The indicating light above the fire alarm annunciator was missing.
- The doors servicing the bathrooms shall be self-closing and latching.
- A minimum of 36 inches of clear area around the hot water heater at all times.
- A minimum of 36 inches of clear area shall be maintained from the electrical service panels and fire alarm control panel.
- Several electrical duplex outlets were found to be damaged in the gym area.
- The kitchen stove is not protected as required the Uniform Fire Code
- The area under the stage is not protected by the building fire alarm system. Thus storage shall not be allowed in this area.
- There is an inadequate number of emergency lights in the assembly area.
- There is an inadequate number of fire extinguishers in the building.
- The interior finish of the plywood walls does not meet the flame resistance requirements for a place of assembly.
- The fire alarm system is in need of its annual inspection.
- Documentation is needed supporting the monthly inhouse inspections of fire extinguishers, exit lights and emergency lights.
- The place of assembly permit and the approved occupant load of the facility are required to be posted.
“Based upon the findings during this inspection and given the history of non-compliance from the operators of this facility, it is my recommendation that the facility remain closed until the minimum maintenance items are addressed. This being the fire alarm inspection, light repairs, fire extinguishers, bathroom doors, electrical hazards and storage, etc.”
Schofield said the building then could re-open with the second floor remaining closed and occupancy limited to 49 until the interior finish and a permanent resolution to exits and exterior walkways.
After reviewing the memo, selectmen voted to close the Hall.
On Friday, December 28 when Selectmen met again, heated words were exchanged over the closing.
Talent hall parking lot encased in thick ice.
Seymour said the closing was illegal and that he had called the state fire inspector and was told it was illegal because only the Recreation Commission had the authority to close the building.
However, Peeples pointed out that Talent Hall was a town building, and, as such, was under the authority of the Board of Selectmen.
Although Seymour contended that he had never been given any code violations, Schofield read from memos dating to 1996 from then Fire Chief Brent Lemire about code violations. Schofield pointed out that some of the decade-old violations were the same ones that Emanuelson found in the most recent inspection.
Later Seymour explained that he meant to say that he hadn’t known about the code changes and the new requirements. “We are being asked for more lighting and more fire extinguishers plus having a sidewalk from the side door to the driveway,” he clarified.
Schofield was also concerned about misinformation being spread about the closing. “I’ve gotten a number of phone calls and e-mails,” he told selectmen. “For example, one e-mail came from Brian and I won’t give his last name, but let me read this to you.”
“Apparently Talent Hall has been closed per order of the fire chief due to exits being blocked by snow. I was informed that it has been cleared out but the chief refused to inspect it because he is off until the New Year. …”, stated Brian’s e-mail.
Schofield said that after he wrote back and stated he was not on vacation and told the resident about the numerous code violations that he had gotten an apology and read the second e-mail from Brian, which began, “I apologize for my initial tone and not having all the facts. However, this is a bit more concerning to me now since there seems to be more than snow as the issue at hand. Folks were led to believe the snow was the problem and it has since been removed. …”
Schofield said he had been referring all calls to the selectmen’s office because the board had taken the action to close the hall and pointed out that during the ensuing Friday night discussion that selectmen said they had not talked to anyone. “Where is this misinformation coming from and how can it be stopped?” he asked.
Before Seymour left, he discussed with selectmen the minimum number of items that needed to be fixed, including ensuring that the emergency lights came on.
Schofield told Seymour that he had already called and scheduled a fire alarm system inspection and had been investigating flame retardant paints and gave Seymour details.
Later Seymour said that as soon as he left the Friday night meeting, he began working on the problems. By Sunday afternoon Seymour and Dave Mellon were working in Talent Hall.
“We should have all the items completed by this afternoon,” said Mellon who was working on the bathroom doors while Seymour replaced the broken exterior light.
Seymour said that Jolt Electric would be in on Monday to add more emergency lighting and said that batteries and bulbs had been replaced in the existing emergency lighting and that they now worked.
Rather than spend money on the stove, Seymour planned to remove it. “It is never used. It would be a waste of money to bring it up to code.”
“Paint has been ordered. I have an invoice so it can be paid out of this year’s funds. I plan to get some basketball parents to help me paint the walls. Additional fire extinguishers have been purchased and will be installed at each exit door. We hope to have the hall open soon.”
Seymour said he also planned to buy a small snow blower and leave it at Talent Hall. “It is difficult to use volunteer snow removal when you have to drag your own snow blower up here and then back to your house.”
Selectmen told Seymour they were amenable to amending his budget to add additional dollars for repairs to keep Talent Hall in good shape and open. Seymour acknowledged that he would be looking at a few items and talking to selectmen before the Deliberative Session.
Dibble Awarded Boy Scout Eagle Rank
Will Dibble, Eagle Scout, between his parents, Ben and Beth Dibble, at his Eagle ceremony.
Boy Scout Troop 21 of Hudson has added another Eagle Scout to its honor roll. Will Dibble has completed all requirements and was awarded his Eagle rank on Saturday, December 29, at the Hudson VFW 5791. The ceremony was the culmination of his five years with Troop 21.
Will’s Eagle Project was to re-glaze the windows in the Wattannick Grange Hall. Boy Scouts must earn 21 merit badges, and lead a project that benefits their communities to earn the Eagle Badge.
Back in 2005, Dibble began thinking about his Eagle project. That he started so long ago is not surprising. “The average, that’s average mind you, time to complete an Eagle Project is one year,” says Arrowhead District Executive John Pelletier. “Many Scout Eagle projects run up to two years and more.” The scout is directed to begin planning for two projects, in case his favorite project cannot be accomplished.
It must be for a local community group. It cannot be for a person or family. You would think that the Boy Scouts would want their Scouts to help with things like their camps or buildings. But that is strictly forbidden. It cannot benefit the Boy Scouts of America in any way.
Nor can the project be a fundraiser. There must be a tangible result. A building repaired, or a task completed. Prior Eagles for Troop 21 have done the following: Adam Hanks – info kiosk at Robinson Pond; Dan Fitzpatrick – U. S. Flag collection and replacement; Dan Ordway – emergency stair rebuilt at the Wattannick Grange; Pete Dibble – books for the Hills-Garrison School; Ryan Warren – blood drive; Mike Shearer – trail work at Benson’s; Tom Laste – side door and porch at the Wattannick Grange in preparation for a wheelchair ramp; Michael O’Keefe – refinished the floor at the Wattannick Grange.
Dibble has not just spent his time working on his rank badges. During his years in Troop 21 he attended summer camp four times, and worked at the Cub Camp Carpenter in Manchester one summer. He was elected into the Order of the Arrow, the Scout Service Organization. He earned 33 merit badges. With the troop he visited Cooperstown, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard and climbed to the top of Mount Washington twice. If you added the days spent camping it would be more than three months. This last summer he attended the World Jamboree in England to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scout movement. At the jamboree he joined 20,000 other scouts from around the world living and learning about the world, and how to make it better.
After his project was approved by the Troop Committee, the Wattannick Grange, and the Arrowhead Eagle Board, which took several months, he was ready to begin work. But before lifting a hammer or buying paint, he had to raise money. The Scout needs to run his own fundraising program. Will was fortunate that he had helped with a yard sale that benefited the Grange, and was able to use some of that money. But he also had to organize a car wash to finish his funding needs.
In addition to funding, the Scout must locate and recruit help in the actual work of the project. So Will called scouts from the troop for help, and was able to get his grandfather, Norman Dibble, of Windsor, New York, to come out and help. Mr. Dibble had worked as a home builder, and built his own house in the 1950s and was well versed in the building trades. “Having my grandfather to help was really, really great,” said Will. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
For about two weeks, relatives, scouts, and adults replaced, repaired, and re-glazed the windows. Then, to get the maximum result, the windows were painted and scraped. “The building was built in 1857, so the windows around the front door are 150 years old. The rest of the windows are from the 1930s,” said Abbott Rice, the grangemaster. “So the boys made a special effort to be careful not to break any.”
At the end of the summer, Will’s project was done. You might think he could then rest and coast his way to the Eagle rank, but you’d be wrong. He then had to write a final paper, giving manpower use, financial statement, and what problems and changes he encountered. “I was surprised to find that I had over 200 hours of volunteer time on the project,” said Will. “At about $10 per hour, and adding in the materials, the overall project was over $2,200 in value to the Grange.
On September 11, Dibble went to the District Eagle Board, and was approved for the rank of Eagle Scout to the National Boy Scout office. A few weeks later, the official word was received. This past Saturday, Troop 21 held a special Court of Honor to celebrate Will’s success, and to encourage the scouts in his troop to follow his footsteps. Troop 21 is sponsored by the Hudson American Legion Post #48, but they have had some building problems and the Eagle Court had to be moved at the last minute to the VFW.
“Not every scout becomes an Eagle,” said Pelletier, “but all the boys benefit from the focus on ‘helping other people at all times,’ as it says in the scout oath.
Surrounded by fellow scouts, family and friends, Will received his Eagle Medal. The ceremony included a presentation showing pictures of Will as he grew up and progressed through the Cub and Boy Scout ranks. Mike Lambert, Committee Chair, served as master of ceremonies. Steve Haime related the Scout Law to Will’s life with the troop. Ken Low, assistant scoutmaster, told a story of the Wattannick Grange’s history. The Grange building is 150 years old this year, and Will’s project to revitalize the windows was very useful and truly appreciated.
For additional information on Boy Scouts in the Nashua area, contact Pelletier at 391-6399.
Selectmen Propose to Adjust Fire Department Salaries
by Lynne Ober
In a process that started last year with a four-figure increase for Litchfield’s police chief and a 10-percent market adjustment for Litchfield’s town clerk, selectmen again are working to bring town employee salaries in line with towns of Litchfield’s size. “We know some of our salaries are not in line with today’s world, but we can’t do it all at once,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Raymond Peeples.
The board’s first move this year was to approve an hourly salary for Cable Committee volunteers who staff a camera to record town events for the cable service.
Then the selectmen turned toward the Fire Department. Selectman Al Raccio, known for his research, looked at towns similar in size to Litchfield and produced charts with salaries for all levels of personnel.
Raccio broke down the data into full-time and part-time salaries.
For example, Raccio said the minimum part-time fire chief’s hourly salary was $25.56. Hourly rates for full-time chiefs were much more than the $25.56, but Raccio told selectmen he tried to keep the comparison similar to Litchfield. He did, however, provide the full-time salaries and they were more than the current hourly salary of $36.68 earned by Litchfield’s police chief. (Joseph O’Brion’s salary will rise to $37.78 per hour if voters approve the budget.). Raccio noted that all first responders should have appropriate salaries in making his comparisons.
Based on his work, Raccio proposed the following salaries be put into the operating budget for voters to approve at the polls.
- Fire chief’s hourly salary would be at the minimum for part-time chief salaries or $25.56. Thomas Schofield has more than two decades’ experience with the department
- Assistant Chief - $22.71. Michael Croteau has 20 years’ experience with the department.
- Deputy Chief - $22. Paul Allard has 10 years’ experience with the department.
- Captain Full Time - $21.85. Douglas Nicoll has 20 years’ experience with the department.
- Lieutenant - $21.40. William McInerney has been with the Litchfield Fire Department four years.
- Firefighter Full Time - $17.24
- Firefighter Part Time - $16.08.
Each of the salaries is slightly below average of the market pool. Raccio provided individual town data by job title as well as average, minimum and maximum hourly wages for each town for each position.
During discussion it was pointed out that the hourly wage for driving the town snow plow is $18 and that at least one member of the on-call fire department also drives a truck for the town. Call firefighters in Litchfield now earn only slightly more at $12.39 per hour than the new Cable Committee volunteers will earn for staffing a camera.
After the meeting, Schofield said, “If a firefighter can earn $18 plowing and a call comes in while he is plowing, will he stop plowing and respond which currently would result in a loss of almost $6 per hour for time worked, or will he keep plowing? We all have to feed our families.”
Selectman Pat Jewett said the raises were unfair because they weren’t looking at the secretaries in town hall. Now secretaries in the selectmen’s office, who both have 18 years’ service, make $20.11 per hour. If the proposed raises are approved at the March ballot, they will make $20.71 per hour, or more than either full-time or part-time firefighters and only slightly less that the captain and lieutenant fire department positions.
However, Selectman George Lambert strongly disagreed and said that $12 per hour to video an event did not compare to running into a burning building or completing some of the other tasks done by Litchfield’s fire department. He said the proposed salaries were more than fair and long overdue.
Jewett, however, continued to disagree and again asked about salaries for the secretaries.
Other selectmen offered support for the fire department increases. The current full-time lieutenant’s position will earn $21.40 if the raises are approved, but the comparable lieutenant position in the Police Department will earn $34.09 per hour or $12.69 more than the fire department lieutenant position.
Lambert said, “This is a great plan. Remember we ask these people to run into a burning building for us.”
Peeples reminded the board that the fire department does not have a step pay system. “The secretaries, as are all office staff, are on a step system. The fire department is not.”
Selectmen approved the proposed wage scale and agreed to place it into the budget, which allows voters to vote on it in March.
In a related vote, they also approved a 3-percent cost-of-living adjustment for all other employees. The fire department will not get that raise, but would get the newly proposed and approved salary schedule.
Litchfield School Board Proposes 5.15 Percent Increase
by Doug Robinson
The Litchfield School Board has proposed a 2009 general fund operating budget of $19,003,648, up 5.15 percent over the 2008 school budget, but up 14.39 percent over last year’s spending levels.
“The school district returned a million dollars that was not expended because their special education budget was under the expected amount,” said Selectmen’s Representative to the Budget Committee Raymond Peeples. “As a result this year’s budget is up 14.39 percent over what was spent last year. However, the budget amount is only 5.15 percent above what was budgeted.”
The detailed review indicates that the majority of the budget increase results from contractual agreements with the teachers. Fiscal 2009 represents the third year of the three-year contract voted and approved by the voters.
Salaries and benefits for the teachers represent 82.44 percent of the total budget increase. The total proposed salary for the teachers is $13,611,235, up from $12,853,321. The teachers segment of the total budget represents 72 percent of the entire budget.
Several positions have also been proposed by the school board for the budget review. During school board deliberations, 30 various new positions were discussed. After lengthy discussions, the school board narrowed the scope to seven new positions going before the Budget Committee.
The new positions:
- Two IEP (Individualized Educational Professional) SPED (Special Education) Paraprofessionals: as required by law, one is needed for the new Hospitality Program and the other is required for a specific student.
- Guidance Counselor: This part-time position is required to provide needed services to the increased student population.
- School Psychologist: Needed to provide in-depth counseling to students as well as provide better coordination’s of evaluations. Salary and benefits are partially offset by a $37,000 reduction in contract services.
- Campbell High School Athletic Administrative Assistant: This 15-hour-a-week position will provide support to the athletic director. These duties now are being done on overtime.
- Two Custodians: Litchfield Middle School is in need of a part-time custodian and Campbell High School is in need of a custodian for the summer months.
The total revenue needed to support these new positions is $134,574.
The school board also is recommending to the Budget Committee that two additional positions need expanding. School officials wish to expand the Campbell High School library monitor from 12.5 hours per week to 25 hours per week and to reclassify the grounds assistant from youth to regular part-time position plus additional spring hours. Total cost for the expansion of these positions would be $9,500.
As the 2008 one time projects totaling $78,000 wrap up, the school board was sensitive to the effect of the proposed 2009 budget and cut $714,398 in proposed projects. Projects that will not be included in the 2009 budget are stadium, lighting, storage and locaters ($240,025), Griffin Memorial School modular ($127,359), repairs to rugs, lighting and bathrooms at Griffin Memorial School ($56,111), and field fencing ($49,000).
However, the school board has recommended that the Budget Committee approve CHS track repair ($28.423), a multi-purpose fence ($27,000) to surround the field at CHS, CHS business lab computer replacement ($32,500), and out-of-district mileage for SPED transportation ($29,750). Major increases affecting the school board’s proposed operating budget total $900,793.
“The process followed was similar to last year. Administrators were asked to identify all the needs that were important to implement or maintain their programs. In its review cycles, both the administrative team and the School Administrative Unit recommended significant reductions to budget requests in order to reduce the total budget’s impact on the Litchfield taxpayer. In finalizing its proposed budget, the school board also took an aggressive approach in reducing many critical needs areas” states the school board’s review of the budget.