By Scooter MacMillan Editor

Charlotte looks for more affordable, energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing new town garage design

(This story has been updated since it originally appeared online.)

Although Charlotte Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner broke three ribs when a large landscaping mower flipped over on him, the accident could have been much worse.

Faulkner spent four nights in the hospital and is still in a good bit of pain, but he’s back at work, presiding at the May 23 selectboard meeting, albeit moving a bit carefully and trying not to laugh or cough because of the pain from the broken ribs.

He was working alone when the mower started to slide, and he jumped off and into a ditch. The mower flipped over and landed on top of him.

His whole body was covered by the mower, except for his head.

“Fortunately, it didn’t hit me in the head, otherwise it would have been history,” Faulkner said.

It was also fortunate that the mower flipped over, he said, so he didn’t end up on the side of the mower with the spinning blade.

Although he was alive, it was still a scary situation. The sensor that cuts the mower off still had pressure on it because the mower was upside down resting on it. So, the mower was still running — until the motor flooded out and quit.

Even after the mower stalled out, Faulkner’s ordeal was not over; he was pinned under it. At first, he was struggling to breathe, and it was a while before he could even move. It took a good deal of painful struggling to extricate himself and get himself to the hospital.

“Pain almost becomes immaterial in situations like that. The mind just says, “You have some pain, buddy, but there’s a couple of more important things than the pain,” Faulkner said. “It’s an interesting concept.”

Some members of selectboard had planned to hold a meeting with members from the energy committee to discuss the design of the new garage on May 18, but that meeting was cancelled because of Faulkner’s injuries.

Town garage meeting
The rescheduled meeting was held on Friday, May 27.

Jim Faulkner and Louise McCarren from the selectboard were joined by members of the energy committee and industry professionals who are helping Charlotte plan a less expensive and more energy efficient garage than the initial design.

That plan estimated the cost of building a new town garage would be about $3.5 million, selectboard chair Faulkner said. Adding septic and well would bring that cost up to around $3.7 million.

A town garage is needed to replace the private garage where road commissioner Junior Lewis housed his road equipment before it burned down just before Christmas.

Eyebrows shot up at the selectboard meeting when that estimate was announced and those eyebrows almost merged with hairlines when people heard how much Ferrisburgh and Hinesburg spent to build new garages several years ago.

Ferrisburgh’s garage cost about $1 million, a good deal of which reportedly was due to its construction being overseen by a town official who is also a general contractor.

Hinesburg’s garage cost about $3 million, Faulkner said.

Like so much else, construction materials, particularly steel, have gone way up in this post-pandemic world — if you can get them.

There has been a suggestion that one way to bring down the cost of the initial design is to reduce the garage from six to four bays. Lewis has said several times he isn’t looking for a fancy, expensive garage. He wants a garage that’s functional at a cost town voters will approve when it comes up for a bond vote.

However, Lewis said, he believes the town should stick with six bays for the new garage.

“Everybody that I know or I work for might say their house is too big now that their kids have left, but I’ve never heard anybody say their garage is too big. Everybody is putting up little sheds because they need more space,” Lewis said. “I think we should build it not just for myself but for the future.”

Rebecca Foster of the energy committee said big grants are coming for electrical chargers specifically along Route 7, to get chargers every 50 miles, so installing a charger at the garage might bring in funds to offset the cost of the garage. She also said the site of the new garage at the old flea market south of Charlotte Crossings on Route 7 might be utilized as a park and ride and there are grants available for that.

While the town would like to have a bond vote for construction of a new garage on the ballot in November, Faulkner said the town is not committed to a vote then. That is “a moving date” as they go through the design and permitting process, but there is much anxiousness to get garage built as soon as possible so Lewis and his employees don’t have to work on his trucks outside on snow-covered ground in freezing weather.

Besides being more affordable and energy efficient than the initial plans, the town is wrestling with constructing a garage aesthetically consistent with other rural buildings in the area.

It will be a challenge to build a such a large building that fits with “the Vermont vernacular,” Foster said.

The challenge is “making it look like a barn when it’s not a barn,” said David Pill, a Charlotte architect recruited to help with the design issues.

A good bit of the discussion was about whether the garage should have a gabled roof that will be nicer looking or a flat roof that has lots of advantages for situating solar panels.

Faulkner said he was “going to hold out” for a gabled roof. “I may have to give it up,” he admitted but talked about his concerns that traffic headed south on Route 7 would be looking down on a flat roof, which he’s not wild about.

Faulkner would also like for the building to have the aesthetic and passive solar advantages of windows, even though windows are expensive.

“I agree with you, Jim that natural light is nice, and I prefer a traditional roof experience aesthetically, but I will say that whole garage is not oriented particularly well for photovoltaic,” Foster said. “If it were a flat roof, we could actually orient the solar panels to the south and maximize what we’re able to gain from them.”

The perspective of Dan Edson, an energy consultant with Efficiency Vermont, who attended the meeting remotely, was to locate solar panels where it makes the most sense rather than having design or other considerations dictate where they go.

“Do due diligence. Make sure that you look at all the tools within the town to make sure that it’s on the most cost-effective piece of property,” Edson said. “Sometimes that is a roof because there is a financial benefit associated with putting it on a roof, and a flat roof is ideal for that.”

The first priority is making sure a building is as energy efficient as possible. Looking at installing solar is next on the list, Edson said.

“I want to say something as a citizen of Charlotte,” Ruah Swennerfelt of Sustainable Charlotte said, shortly before the meeting came to a close. “I’m so proud to be sitting here and listening to everybody being really concerned about being energy efficient, finding the right way to do this for the future.”

Charlotte could be an example for other towns going through this process, Swennerfelt said.

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