May 24, 2022

Residents Support Essex Savings Bank’s Interest in Leasing Available Bank Space at Town Hall Building

CHESTER— An expression of interest from Essex Savings Bank about leasing soon-to-be-available space on the first floor of town hall drew strong support from residents Tuesday night as the board of selectmen held an informational meeting on options for the space that has been leased by a Bank of America branch for more than a decade.

About 50 residents turned out for the meeting that was called after Bank of America announced that it would close the branch and vacate the space by the end of June. The board was seeking input from residents on options for using the space, including possible town use as a community center. But the recent expression of interest from Essex Savings Bank dominated the discussion.

Bank of America occupied the space when the town purchased the building at Middlesex Avenue (Route 154) in 2002 and converted other sections on the first and second floors into town hall in 2003. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the bank has leased 3,200 square feet on the south side of the first floor at an annual rent of $75,000. The lease expires in August, but Bank of America is expected to vacate by the end of June.

Meehan said the town has received a payment of $280,000 from insurance carriers to replace the former community center building, located further south on Route 154, that collapsed under the weight of heavy snow in February 2011. Meehan said the total insurance payment was about $337,000, with some funds already expended for demolition and stabilization of the former community center site. The funds must be used to create a similar community center building for public use.

Meehan said there are options for town use of the vacant space at town hall, including a community center or possible use by the Chester Public Library, which is awaiting a feasibility study due in late June on a possible renovation and expansion of the historic 1908 library building on West Main Street (Route 148).

But nearly all of the residents at the meeting appeared to favor leasing the space to another bank, particularly a local institution like Essex Savings Bank. The bank’s president, Greg Shook, and Thomas Lindner, a vice-president who serves as the bank’s community relations officer, were at the meeting. After nearly an hour of discussion, Shook told the crowd Essex Savings Bank would be “honored to to able to fill the hole,” left by the departure of Bank of America.

Speakers at the meeting said the library should remain at the current site on Route 148, and some speakers questioned whether the town needed to replace the demolished community center with a new building. Lori Clymas, one of many who favored offering the space to Essex Savings Bank, said the community center insurance reimbursement could be directed to renovating underused space on the second floor of town hall for wider community use.

Several residents said Chester would benefit from having a second bank operating in town. With the departure of Bank of America, the only bank would be the First Niagara branch located on Water Street. Essex Savings Bank currently has two bank facilities in Essex, and branches in Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and a new branch that opened last year in Madison.

Meehan said he is proposing an appropriation of $25,000 in the pending 2012-2013 town budget to pay for a space and needs study of town facilities that would include “taking a look” at further renovations and other uses for the second floor at town hall. Meehan said the board of selectmen would discuss options for the first floor space at town hall, including possible lease talks with Essex Savings Bank, at a future meeting. He said the town must make a decision on use of the insurance proceeds from the former community center by the end of 2014.