Rehabilitation and adaptive use of old Town Hall, Durham
With partners: Cowan/Goudreau Architects; Essex Preservation Consulting; and Faylor Construction.
We could have been looking at a Rite Aid here if robust public opposition hadn’t convinced the Town of Durham to terminate its contract with a developer.
The property started as two c.1860 houses that were combined in the 1970s for use as the Durham Town Offices. At the time, the rehabilitation was novel, and with its hyphen connecting the two buildings, it won an award from the New England Regional Council of the American Institute of Architects in 1979. But after 2010, the Town was looking for a larger space and the property’s large downtown lot was desirable real estate. After a generous offer from a developer, the town was prepared to allow the contributing building in the national and local historic district to be demolished.
When the NH Division of Historical Resources revealed that such action would jeopardize the downtown’s National Register District status, the Historic District Commission had the information they needed to reject the proposal.
Instead, the Town of Durham issued a request for proposals and found a partner in Applied GeoSolutions, a growing mapping firm that uses geospatial tools to monitor global trends in agriculture, climate change, public health, and resource management. Applied GeoSolutions purchased the property and used the federal historic tax credit (the first use of the credit in Durham) to facilitate the renovation. They also sought and received approvals for exterior changes from the local district historic commission. Proprietors Carrie and Bill Salas spent their evenings and weekends stripping window trim, poring over balusters in yard sales trying to find matches, and serving as project managers.
Town Administrator Todd Selig said of the project, “[The] end result is an absolutely beautiful redevelopment of the property that left the Historic District intact [and allowed for] a redevelopment that has added quality new jobs and additional tax base for the community.”
For Applied GeoSolutions, the location next to the brainpower at UNH has been a fruitful connection, and they enjoy owning their own space after years of renting on the Seacoast.
The project serves as a testament to the power of historic district commissions, the ability of town leaders to consider more responsible and creative methods for disposing of public property, and the tenacity of small business owners.
You might even say that Applied GeoSolutions helped put Durham on the map in more ways than one.