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Squannacook Hall still has some value, site walk shows

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GROTON — At a site walk conducted at Squannacook Hall in West Groton, members of the Board of Selectmen were convinced that at least a minimum level of review is warranted for the 120-year-old building.

“I do think preserving the hall would be a worthwhile thing to do,” said Selectmen Peter Cunningham. “It has significant historical importance to the community and I think there’s a use that needs to be redefined for it. The town is constantly looking for space for groups and functions and things like that, and that needs to be looked at in the context of this building.”

Cunningham joined fellow selectmen, as well as Building Committee members Michelle Collette and Thomas Hartnett, at the hall on June 25 for a first-hand look at the structure.

“Basically, issues such as parking and septic requirements would need to be part of the design plans,” said Cunningham. “They would have to determine what could be done to address those issues. With only limited space at the hall, there is only so much you can do. They’ll have to look for some waivers but it’s way too early to speculate about that. That’s what a design plan would need to look at.”

Selectmen conducted the site walk in response to a request by the Building Committee for their support in seeking up to $30,000 to cover the cost of drawing up a design plan for restoration of the historic Squannacook Hall.

The committee made the request after selectmen late last year voted to shutter the old building and provide it only with minimal maintenance, pending a decision on what to do with it in the long term.

Squannacook Hall had been the headquarters of the Recreation Department, before that group was discontinued and its operations taken over by the Parks Department. Currently, the hall is used only intermittently by the local Boy Scout troop.

Since major activity ceased at the hall, selectmen have authorized Building Supervisor John Estabrook to conduct only minimal maintenance at the building, designed only to keep its basic utilities in operating condition.

That, claimed members of the Building Committee, would not be enough to keep the building from deteriorating over the long run.

In an earlier meeting with selectmen, Collette and Hartnett explained that if the building remains empty, it is inevitable that its physical condition would continue to decline.

In a survey of town residents, Collette reported that there was public support to restore the old building, justifying spending some money to draw up a report on what would be needed to complete a full renovation.

To that end, the Building Committee met with selectmen to seek their support for an application for funding from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to conduct a preliminary design plan.

Selectmen decided the site walk was needed to make an informed decision regarding the expenditure of public funds for such a study.

“It was an opportunity to take a look at the condition of the building and get some idea of what to improve or upgrade,” explained Cunningham.

Following last month’s site walk, selectmen were not yet prepared to sign on for a full design plan, although they did express a willingness to support a feasibility study for the hall.

“It really wasn’t too bad,” Cunningham said of conditions at the hall. “Some areas obviously need to be improved, such as the heating situation in a damp basement that is not good for the equipment. Other things that would need to be improved or updated would be handicapped access. But overall the general condition of the building I thought wasn’t too bad.”

“I thought the site walk went very, very well,” said Collette. “Selectmen were not ready to do the design plan but were in agreement with a feasibility study, so we were able to come to an agreement with the board on applying for CPA funds for that. As a result, the Building Committee has already submitted a preliminary application with the CPC. We also plan to request that the selectmen send a letter of support for the application to the CPC.”

“I do think preserving the hall would be a worthwhile thing to do,” said Cunningham. “It has significant historical importance to the community and I think there’s a use that needs to be redefined for it.”

Cunningham predicted that the subject would come up again with the Board of Selectmen.

“Very, very soon the subject will be placed on a future agenda in order for the selectmen to take formal action on a design plan,” said Cunningham.

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