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BRIDGEWATER Grange’s fate under review

October 7, 2018

BRIDGEWATER — Demolition of the historic Grange is stalled as the state looks into whether it’s feasible to restore the 1850s-era building instead of replacing it with a new structure.

In 2016, the Board of Selectmen presented a plan to demolish the building, which was condemned a few years ago, and build a new structure.

A group of residents discovered, though, that it was in a historic district and on the National Register of Historic Places. This finding prompted the state to examine whether the Grange could be replaced.

“We’re hopeful that we can find a solution that saves a building,” said Todd Levine, a historian with the state Historic Preservation Office.

Last month, the Attorney General’s Office filed an injunction against the demolition while more information can be collected at the request of the Historic Preservation Council — a group of history experts under the State Historic Preservation Office.

A structural engineer is assessing the property in the coming weeks to determine the condition of the building and costs associated with restoring it. If the costs are too high, the state will most likely OK the removal but if the state thinks renovation is possible, the demolition won’t get the green light.

If the state doesn’t approve the demolition, the town will have to decide if it wants to renovate or build a new community space somewhere else, most likely by the senior center where there is room, parking and a septic connection.

Bridgewater First Selectman Curtis Reed said he would prefer to demolish the building and replace it with a new structure that has historical elements.

“I’d like to build a building that can be there for 150 years,” Reed said.

In disrepair

The building was erected as a one-room schoolhouse in 1854. A second floor was added in 1900.

Reed said that addition is causing a bulk of the problems because the supports weren’t designed to hold another floor. There is also asbestos and termite damage.

“The building is in terrible condition, whichever way you slice it,” Reed said.

The building’s condition has also prompted the town’s insurance provider to reduce its coverage and require the town to put up a chain link fence and warning signs around the building to keep people out.

Jean Bandler, a member of the Grange who supports the restoration, acknowledged the organization needed help with the maintenance, which is one of the reasons the building was sold to the town for $1 back in 1999.

She said they thought the town would take over the upkeep, but not much has been done.

“I don’t think anyone wants a luxurious building— that wouldn’t be in keeping with the nature of the Grange — but we want a renovated, functioning building,” she said.

Granges were started as farmers’ unions to fight against monopolies that were increasing the costs of shipping and storing their crops. They were also social gathering places for the local farmers, a tradition that survives today, Bandler said.

The Bridgewater Grange formed in 1900 and still has about 50 members.

“It certainly has a lasting and long tradition in Bridgewater,” Brandler said.

Historic downtown

David Sposato, a resident who supports the renovation, said the historic buildings in Bridgewater are an important characteristic of the town and need to be preserved.

“Bridgewater is a community that puts value on the historic nature of the buildings around the town green,” he said. “Every building you see on the green is very much a period building and I love to see that.”

Bandler said the planning and zoning commission worked to protect that historic character when she served on it years ago. She described the Grange as a simple New England building.

“It’s not anything fancy at all, but it’s very emblematic of that style,” she said. “To me, it really fits in beautifully with the Main Street area in Bridgewater.

But Reed said this is one of 61 historical buildings in the district, and not as historically significant as the other structures.

“Greek revival doorways on either end is not, in my mind, historically significant but I’m not the judge on that,” Reed said. “I’m trying to keep the town’s financial interests.”

Renovation or new

The town received three bids to renovate the building, with the average bid at $1.6 million.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the state Office of Historic Preservation said they have grants available to help offset the costs, though Levine said the amount hasn’t been determined.

Bandler said residents will be more open to renovation with the help of the grants.

Reed said they would not be eligible for grants if they build a new building, which is expected to cost $900,000, but said the town is fiscally strong and able to afford it. He said the grants should be used for other historic preservation projects.

A renovation will also have a higher labor cost, based on a law that requires a municipality to pay premium on labor when the project costs more than $100,000. For a new construction project that threshold increases to $1 million.

Reed questions how much of the original building will remain, even with the renovation.

The windows, supports and roof will all have to be replaced, as well as new electrical, heating and plumbing systems installed. The exterior is painted with lead-based paint and so the siding will have to be removed, encapsulated and put back on.

“By the time you’re done, 90 percent of the building is brand new,” he said.

The new building would be one story with a basement and a kitchen out back. If the building is renovated as is, the kitchen, storage and bathrooms would have to go on the first floor with the meeting space upstairs.

This would require an elevator, which would increase the price, Reed said.

Another factor is the oil contamination under the corner of the building, which Reed said is harder to remediate if the building is still there because the structure has to be jacked up. There’s also a risk of the work weakening the soil the Grange sits on.

Reed has suggested the residents form a nonprofit to collect the grants and raise the remaining costs to preserve the building.

Both Bandler and Sposato said they’ve considered doing that but want to do it with the town.

“We want to work with the town as best as possible,” he said.

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