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BRIDGEWATER — With Bridgewater Grange Hall currently in an unusable state, members of the town’s Grange are creating a nonprofit in hopes to make the aging structure a functioning building once again.
It “should be a few weeks” to get the necessary approvals for the nonprofit’s formation, said Lisa Burns, an assistant steward in the Grange and the expected secretary of the Bridgewater Grange Preservation Association. The entity's three expected board members — Burns, Neil Olshansky and Peggy Zottola — all carry roles within the grange.
“We chose setting up a separate organization for that because we’re eligible for a lot more in the way of grants and funding and there’s a lot more that a nonprofit can do, structured the way that we will be for the Grange preservation,” Burns said.
The building, which was constructed in the mid-1800s, has served a variety of purposes over the years — including functioning as a schoolhouse, and a meeting space — prior to it getting condemned. An insurance provider has previously cut back on the structure’s coverage and ordered it to be enclosed with a chain link barrier.
Restoring the existing building isn’t the only possibility that’s being considered — some would like to see it torn down and have a new building built for the community. The building suffers from structural issues and the presence of lead paint and asbestos, among other problems, according to a presentation provided by the first selectman Curtis Read.
As part of the Bridgewater Center Historic District, the building is marked on the National Register of Historic Places. This posed an issue for a possible plan the town put forth a few years back that involved knocking it down. According to a 2018 update from the first selectman, the Historic Preservation Council determined it would urge the state Attorney General’s Office to block that from happening.
“We have blight in the middle of town,” Read said in an interview. “It’s got, you know, rats and squirrels and termites and everything else living in it, in and amongst a bunch of old wooden buildings.”
Burns said the group has a plan to tackle the renovation project in three stages. They aim to have the structure available for use by the Grange and the community at large.
“It does have a history of serving the purpose that we’re actually trying to put it back into service as, which is a town center for, you know, anybody who can make use of it, and it will be the home of the Grange again, it’ll be the home of the Bridgewater Grange organization,” Burns said.
The first phase of the plan would focus on ensuring the building is structurally sound, Burns said. During that stage, they’d “jack up the building,” take out the current foundation and construct a new one and “remove oil that’s underneath,” she said. The second phase would include work for the first floor, while the third would cover work for the second floor, she added.
The Office of the Attorney General and State Historic Preservation Office are expected to connect with the town Dec. 18 to “share and discuss a business plan” that Grange members are working on, Office of the Attorney General spokesperson Elizabeth Benton wrote in an email.
“The latest information is that the Bridgewater Grange business plan is being developed and is on track to be ready for the deadline,” Benton wrote.
Read said the Dec. 18 date marks a “tipping point” in the process.
“They’re trying to find a method to make this happen that’s, you know, doable,” Read said. “I obviously have my reservations as to whether the Grange and the state are going to be able to make this happen financially, but that’s what they’re trying to do. And, you know, I remain open-minded about it, and I look forward to seeing if they can do that.”
The town has gotten potential bids for restoring the structure before. Read said estimates have ranged from “$900,000 for a new building to $1.8 million to renovate that building.” But Burns said she expected the cost for the three phases of their renovation plan to be over $800,000, based on information from “historic specialists” they’ve worked with.
Read said he has “roughly $400,000 in the bank” if the town’s plan moved forward.
The Grange members forming the nonprofit wrote in a news release they plan to be aided by “grants, local fund drives, and events.” Burns expected the possible renovation to benefit from $300,000 from the state — $100,000 for each of the plan’s three phases — in addition to “a lot” of the expenses being “subject to a 20 or 25 percent” tax credit, she said.
Historic Restoration Fund Grants can match funding up to $100,000 per phase, said Todd Levine, who works for the state Historic Preservation Office. They’d have to apply for it and “it’s a competitive grant,” he said.
“I don’t see very many reasons why they would not get funded, as long as they fill out the applications correctly, so on and so forth,” Levine said.