WALLINGFORD — Monday marks the 30th anniversary of the dedication of a new Town Hall at the former Robert Earley School.
Located at 45 S. Main St., Earley served as the original location of Lyman Hall High School, which occupied the building from 1917 to 1957. Earley operated as a middle school from 1957 to 1979.
According to Record-Journal archives, the town purchased the property on South Main Street in 1915 and opened it as a school in 1917.
Former Mayor Rocco J. Vumbaco proposed moving town administrative offices to Earley in 1975, upon learning that the Board of Education planned to close the school.
At the time, town offices were located at 350 Center St., an annex at 9 N. Main St. and as far away as Town Farm Road.
“We all realize that the present Town Hall cannot be expanded to accommodate more space,” Vumbaco said in 1975. “We must look ahead to a consolidated town hall which would best serve the public and the town departments and agencies.”
The Town Council voted to use Earley for a town hall in September 1979 and selected an architect, Edward Johnson and Co. of New Haven, in February 1980.
Initial conversion plans and building layout were submitted in March 1980. Many offices remain in the same rooms today, including the town clerk, assessor, tax collector and mayor.
Estimated project costs at the time were between $2.9 million, or around $8.5 million today.
A Town Hall conversion committee formed in July 1980, tasked by the Town Council to look at the proposed building plans and reduce costs.
Committee members considered reductions, including not installing air conditioning.
That proposal was scrapped, but they saved $50,000 ($152,000 today) by not replacing the auditorium seats.
In September 1980, the committee made its final recommendation to the Town Council, which voted to use Earley for a town hall later that month.
Soon after, however, plans were stalled by financial woes, such as the high price tag, rising interest rates and competing town projects, including a police station expansion.
“We’re in sore need of a town hall,” Vumbaco said in July 1981, after Earley had been vacant for two years. “I think it’s an injustice to the taxpayers.”
In October 1982, a study by outside planning consultants concluded that Earley would best serve as the new town hall, a plan preferred over renovating the existing town hall and new construction.
Cost estimates were between about $1.5 million and $2.2 million at the time, but one drawback to using Earley was the shortage of parking spaces.
By 1984, the Town Council had appointed a Robert Earley Disposal Committee.
Members were charged with coming up with a plan for the building, which had deteriorated during the previous six years.
Floors and ceilings had buckled due to water damage, paint was peeling from the walls and rooms were filled with garbage or unused town equipment.
“It’s a beautiful old building,” said Robert Earley Disposal Committee Chairman Wayne LeClaire in August 1984, “but there’s some serious construction that has to be done.”
In July 1985, two local businessmen, Richard Caplan and John Wooding, proposed purchasing Earley and two other municipal buildings for $600,000.
They would have renovated and then leased Earley back to the town and the other spaces for commercial, retail and residential use.
Although the Town Council supported the plan, the Robert Earley Disposal Committee didn’t, mainly because the town would have had to enter a 30-year lease, with ownership reverting to the town after that time.
Council members decided to solicit other proposals.
In July 1986, Judd Square Associates proposed tearing down the existing town hall and annex, replacing it with new buildings, a courtyard and walkway.
In January 1987, the Town Council approved a contract for Judd Square Associates to buy the existing town hall and three other buildings on Center and Main streets for $850,000 and to renovate Earley into a town hall.
The council passed an ordinance in February 1987 to spend up to $2.5 million on the renovations, an amount which didn’t include telephones, furniture or expanding the 40-space parking lot.
The amount did include funds for extensive interior repairs to vandalism and water damage. The building had been vacant for almost 13 years at that time.
The Robert Earley Renovation Committee asked for an additional $130,000 in August 1987 for some items deemed extras and not included in the original estimate, including new concrete sidewalks, landscaping and flagpole and the bronze letters that state “Wallingford Town Hall.”
By April 1988, town employees were preparing for the move from Center Street to South Main Street, boxing up files and cartons of papers and grumbling about where to park.
The parking lot still consisted of only 40 spots. Eventually the parking lot was expanded, but not before the town considered knocking down the post office.
Town offices opened in May 1988, and the building was formally dedicated on Sept. 17, 1988.
The dedication, which drew about 200 people, was incorporated into the annual Celebrate Wallingford festival.