TOWNSEND- As is their custom every year, the West Townsend Reading Room Committee members gathered at the antiquated building to deck the halls for Christmas. The three-member committee set to work adorning the main room of the building; as Sharon Araujo unfurled yards of tinsel ivy from inside the cardboard box that had been its home for the past year, Vicki Coppinger assembled the tree, plumping up its wire and evergreen branches. Meanwhile, Lois Rearick scrubbed down the windows of the bookshelf doors that houses relics of the reading room's original incarnation.

If you don't know where the West Townsend Reading Room is located, you're likely to drive right by it; the small structure with white, peeling paint is practically indistinguishable among its neighboring residential houses on Dudley Road.

But the building houses some of the town's history, and the committee is doing everything in their power to keep it alive. The building's unique purpose began in 1910, when it was purchased by resident Martha Homer and transformed into a book exchange center and public sitting room for West Townsend residents who couldn't make it out to the library.

When Homer died in 1937, she left the building to the town, along with a trust of $10,000 to be invested, the interest on which was to be used for the maintenance and upkeep.

Unfortunately for the committee members, the interest on the original trust has been difficult to stretch throughout the years.

"We can do minor repairs, but when it comes to big projects and things like that, the interest doesn't go very far," said Araujo.


The committee is facing a bit of a Catch-22. The building is self-sustaining, but despite earnings gleaned from leasing out the hall to the occasional renters, the building has fallen into disrepair, much to the discontent of the committee members. Because of that, it can put off new renters.

"If we could bring in more renters, we could do more projects," said Rearick.

Despite its outward appearance, though, the rooms inside still retain their original charm.

"That's the kind of thing I don't think the community realizes. How do you tell somebody how quaint it is? It's very hard, when you walk up to it and see how ugly it is with the paint peeling," said Araujo. "It looks rough."

The building is in need of several big projects, the primary and most important one being the installation of a new wheelchair ramp. In order to reduce costs as much as possible, the committee is hoping to work with Paul Jussaume, a project coordinator at Nashoba Valley Technical High School, to have the students build the ramp as a study project. Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said he has sent out a formal request for several projects to the school, including the ramp.

"The biggest benefit is it's a tremendous cost savings," said Sheehan. "The flip side is it's also great experience for the kids. It gives them the opportunity to put their skills they've learned to work and help out within the community."

Right now, said Coppinger, the committee is waiting on Nashoba Tech's status before moving ahead with their other projects in order to best utilize their limited funding.

"We have to get estimates for people to come out here and do all this, but we don't have the money," she said. "We have (the interest on) the trust money, but we don't want to use all of it."

The list of other projects is extensive: The exterior paint, siding on the windows and refurbishing the floors are just a few of the items. The paint, although seemingly simple, is another big process due to the possibility of lead.

"It can't just be scraped," said Araujo.

Because of the way the building was willed, the town can't hand it over to the Townsend Historical Society.

Although they are in need of additional funds, on a smaller scale the committee would like to see some volunteers from the community.

"We have so many little projects but we don't have anyone to do them because we don't have any volunteers," said Rearick.

At the end of the day, though, their primary goal is to save and share a little piece of the town's history.

"We want people to feel the same way we all do when we walk through the door," said Coppinger. "I want them to know the history, because it lends itself to remember our character as a town."