CHESTER – Should the Ruth Ray building, located in the historic center of town, be sided with vinyl? It’s a question the selectmen pondered during their July 11 meeting, and it’s a question that divided the board and had members and residents alike suspecting that it may also divide public opinion.
The Ruth Ray building has long been used as the Chester post office. Former resident Ruth Ray bequeathed the building, as well as her grain barn – now the library – to the town in 1977. The current post office once housed Webster Brothers Store, run by Ray’s father, John Webster.
Selectman Rich LeBlanc, who is maintenance liaison, has been suggesting placing vinyl siding on the old building since the board began looking at a long overdue paint job for the structure. While the board, budget committee and ultimately the voters approved about $47,000 for painting and related work, LeBlanc recently asked vinyl siding companies to take a look.
LeBlanc presented samples of historic-looking vinyl and information from those contractors, and gave quotes for their work that were in the ballpark of what the painting would cost.
LeBlanc began his argument for vinyl siding by saying that the town had long neglected its building infrastructure and this was a way to mitigate that in the future.
The post office building is a prime example of neglect, said LeBlanc. He also complimented the vinyl materials and how they’d look on the building. Neglect was a sentiment that selectman chair Steph Landau and selectman Jack Cannon took exception to, saying the board had done a good job of taking care of buildings in light of limited budgets.
While Landau speculated that the Ruth Ray building hadn’t been painted for at least 35 years, although it had been talked about for a decade, he said the board was doing its best to move the town forward with limited budgets.
Cannon agreed with Landau, saying the board had put a lot of money in recent years into Stevens Memorial Hall and the municipal complex, and even helped out with the portion of the church that’s town owned when that building was worked on. “I think we’ve done a great job with the limited resources that have been available,” said Cannon.
Both Landau and Cannon also took exception to placing vinyl siding on an old building in the historic center of town. Landau said that while some say “vinyl is final,” he said that in his opinion, “final is not final.” Landau argued that vinyl fails in about 30 years and can rot the underlying clapboards.
“I’m not madly in love with vinyl and I’ve been vocal that I’m not,” said Landau. He then referenced his own 280-year-old home and how it did not, and would not ever have, vinyl on it.
Cannon had concerns about changing the plan to paint the structure, considering that such was what the voters had agreed to. He also wanted the work specifications clear and the project bid out correctly, taking exception to what he called a too informal process that LeBlanc had undertaken by asking contractors for bids without specifications.
Selectman Joe Hagan said he could see both sides of the argument. While he was sensitive to changing the plan presented to voters, he also said vinyl is a good product and was worth looking at. Eventually the board decided to have specifications and requests for proposals written up for both paint and vinyl.
Resident Rhonda Lamphere spoke after that motion was made to say that putting vinyl on the building was a drastic change from what voters agreed to during Town Meeting, and suspected that some residents would be particularly unhappy if the siding were changed. Cannon also suggested LeBlanc contact the historical society to get its opinion.
According to the Chester Historical Society, the store was originally started in 1832 by John W. Noyes and David Currier. It was passed through several different owners and burned down on three occasions. The present building was built in 1884, was opened as the Webster Bros. store, and closed in 1944.
Contacted after the meeting by the Tri-Town Times, the membership of the historical society was polled on the issue. According to those responses, the Chester Historical Society is 100 percent opposed to using vinyl siding on the historic structure.