Grafton begins looking at Town Hall refurbishment

Select Board member Stan Mack, left, talks with architect Bill Badger about the outside of Grafton Town Hall. Photos by Cynthia Prairie.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Grafton Select Board has begun of looking into possible renovations to Town Hall, the 200-year-old building at 117 Main St. that houses not only the offices of the clerk, treasurer and administrator, but the U.S. Post Office as well.

The board hopes to one day return its twice-a month meetings to the second floor hall. But for that to happen, it should become handicapped accessible, either with a stair climber or an elevator, said board chair  Joe Pollio. “Even if we could do it without (handicapped accessibility) we have an obligation to our handicapped and older folks to get them up there,” Pollio said in an interview on Monday.

Last Friday afternoon, board members Stan Mack, Cynthia Gibbs, Ron Pilette and  Pollio hosted Manchester architect Bill Badger as they toured in and around the building, looking at repairs that now have to be repaired such as a mishmash of coverings on some outside walls and a flat roof over the Town Clerk’s office and the vault. During winter, that roof has to be shoveled of its snow, but the rubber membrane roofing material makes that impractical.

Pollio asked Badger to look at “anything you can do to minimize the cost … heat is only going to get more expensive. ”

From left, Stan Mack, Bill Badger, Cynthia Gibbs, Ron Pilette and Joe Pollio look at the original plans for the 1980s addition.

Acknowledging the fact that little historic fabric is left of the building’s first floor, which has been cut up into offices, Pilette said, “the second floor challenges us more aesthetically.”

Badger, who also has a strong interest in historical preservation, agreed, saying, “The outside and the second floor.”

The second floor hall, with its small stage and refurbished painted curtain, has an impressive barrel-vaulted ceiling, but the tin wall and ceiling coverings are likely from the late 19th and early 20th century and cover what appears to be plastered walls.

The wall tin is painted badly with a flat orange paint. While there are plenty of windows on the second story, air circulation could be improved and, without air conditioning, summer meetings have been known to be stifling. The group also discussed the need for better insulation and possibly a new heating system.

In an interview on Monday, Pilette said the building has been taken care of piecemeal, when a problem crops up such as this past winter when leaks to the roof had to be addressed.

The idea of comprehensive work on Town Hall has been floating around Select Boards for years.

“Many years ago, when Stan and I were on the board together,” said Pollio,  “ we wanted to bring Town Hall back. But other things got in the way. They started the restoration for the front, but …”

And “Last year,” Pilette, “we (the board) were talking about moving into a comprehensive survey of the building and this a following through with that.  … We need a plan and we need to see what the costs are.”

A long and varied history

Much discussion centered around the 2nd floor meeting room.

At 200 years old, it’s no wonder that the small building has an interesting history. The Federal style building began life in 1816 as a general dry goods store, built and owned by John Barrett. According to history submitted to the National Register of Historic Places, store records show that Barrett had 862 customer accounts, 540 of whom were from Grafton. (According to the 2010 Census, Grafton currently has 679 residents.)

Around 1830, Barrett turned store management over to his nephew George.  It housed Grafton’s first Post Office from 1841 to 1855, when a new one opened down the street. Today, it once again houses the Post Office.

Around 1849, G. Barrett built a new store across the street and, eight years later, the town government bought the building from J. Barrett’s widow for a Town Hall.

The barrel ceiling on the 2nd floor sports what appears to be a vent. It also has braces that hold electrical outlets, dating to the Nature Museum’s displays.

During the years since, the building has housed the library,  a fishing rod manufacturer and, in the late 1800s, a shop that sold goods that Harlan Phelps, state legislator and inn and tavern owner,  collected on his travels.   And in 1989, the second floor became home to the Nature Museum, which stayed there for eight years before moving to its own building on Townshend Road.

In the 1980s, an addition was built to expans town office space and accommodate a large vault for town records. The office of Town Clerk/Treasurer Kim Record currently occupies that space.

Town Administrator Emily Huff said she has begun to look into funding options for a potential project, including a grant from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development for preservation of historic buildings.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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