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Claverack’s New Town Hall: Climate Smart Opportunities Abound

For several years the Town Board (TB) has been discussing the town’s intention to build a new town hall. The Claverack Climate Smart Committee (CSC) has contributed to this discussion because many aspects of the project have implications for energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other opportunities for climate action according to its mission.

The former Town Garage/Town Court property on Rt. 217 in Mellenville was interesting to the CSC for the possibility to develop and utilize hydropower for the building. The committee also realized that the site itself could offer other benefits to the community, such as pedestrian access to High Falls Conservation Area and a public space around the town hall that would incorporate the natural beauty of the creek, waterfalls, and the historic paper mill ruins. The committee also recognized that the cost of developing hydropower might be lowered if some of the overhead costs were shared with other projects. For example, the dam would need to be repaired for either hydro or a safe walkway to High Falls. Sharing costs among several projects makes sound economic sense.

This ‘vision’ of a multi-use town hall site faced several challenges. Remediating a brownfield site was considerably more complicated and costly than originally envisioned and working with a partner and securing grants to improve the site around the building added organizational complexity. With these considerations, the TB decided to refocus its planning efforts to Church St. and is now considering the space between the Town Office and the playing fields for a new town hall.

In January and February, the TB discussed the possibility of disposing of the Rt. 217 property. The issue of liability was of concern since the town will be liable for any harm from hazardous materials even after remediation and sale of the property. One option discussed was to contract for remediation and then have the Highway Dept complete demolition.

The CSC has been involved in the discussion of the new town hall since early 2021 because of its implications for addressing climate issues supporting the town’s commitment to the Climate Smart pledge. This pledge involves taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a warming climate. A new municipal building presents an opportunity to lock in energy savings for the long term and utilize renewable energy – hydro and solar power.

The Rt. 217 property has been an overlooked asset which, if developed, could provide many benefits to the community, including safe public access to the natural beauty of the land along the Agawamuck creek and neighboring conservation area. This multi-use vision does not need to be discarded. With planning, the town could facilitate securing DEC grants and exploring possible connections with the Columbia Land Conservancy as a partner. Another benefit would be to foster sustainable economic development in the surrounding community. These are not only benefits to the community, they are ‘climate actions’ (per the Climate Smart Pledge) and would contribute to attaining Bronze certification.

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