Select Board mulls Grange Hall rebuilding project

08/27/07 11:34AM By Ross Sneyd
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(Host) Two-and-a-half years ago, a fire destroyed an iconic Grange hall in Ferrisburgh.

This week, the select board will decide whether to go ahead with a project to rebuild the hall much the way it was and turn it into town offices.

VPR's Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Silas Towler describes himself as a buff of old stuff.

(Towler) "This is the original building. This is the late 1890s paint scheme. The kerosene lamps on the front, the horse sheds on the back. And that's the dirt Route 7."

(Sneyd) So Towler was pretty attached to the old Grange Hall on Route Seven in Ferrisburgh. In fact, he still is.

He happily rolls out old floor plans of the building and sorts through photos on the tailgate of his pickup truck.

(Towler) "The building has a tremendous place in our town's history. An overused word: It's kind of an icon along the Route 7 corridor. You've got 12,000 cars a day going by. Everybody knows this building."

(Sneyd) The wooden, Italianate-style building was built in 1868 for $7,500. It served the town for 80 years as the Congregational church.

Then from 1948 until it was destroyed in an arson in 2005, the building was a Grange Hall.

But not long before that fire, plans had been made to give the old hall a new life.

The Grange had given the building to the town to be renovated into town offices.

The fire brought all of that to an abrupt halt.

Fire crews were already fighting another arson fire at a barn within sight of the Grange that night. So they responded quickly. But they couldn't save it. The back wall collapsed and so did the roof.

But Towler says enough remained for models to be made of the hall's fine architectural details.

Now, with a $2 million insurance settlement in hand, Towler and the building committee he heads want to rebuild, putting up a structure that would look just like the Grange hall did.

(Towler) "The outside should be exactly what it was. The inside, because of modern codes, we're not able to do that anymore."

(Sneyd) The building would include second-floor windows 13-feet-high and four-and-a-half feet-wide, tall ceilings, painted wood floors. Six doors with 19th century painted wood grain were salvaged from the fire and are planned for the reproduction hall.

Some 21st century technology would go inside - central heating, for example, extra bathrooms, a lift to reach the assembly hall upstairs.

But not everyone sees the need to spend more than $2 million on the building, even though the town's share of the costs is just $375,000.

Some say a simple office building next to the fire hall about a mile north would do just fine.

Local Realtor Carl Cole says he's donated money toward restoring the Grange. But he says town offices should go someplace else where there'd be room for any future growth.

(Cole) "All I've been trying to do is to convince the Select Board that we really need to take the time to decide what really is the best solution."

(Sneyd) But Towler points out that the insurance settlement, grants and other donations were made on the assumption the Grange Hall was the solution.

Though he acknowledges differences of opinion, he says he's confident townspeople will side with the building committee.

(Towler) "Our committee felt like it was an obligation to our community to make the most of the Grangers gift to our community. And look at the position they've put us in. It's pretty exciting."

(Sneyd) The Select Board will have to sort it out. The board has until the end of the month to accept a construction bid for the work.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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