town meeting

Town Meeting Results

Another year, another snow storm. Across New Hampshire, voters trekked to their town halls, fire stations, or school gymnasiums to debate various articles that involved saving special historic places.

We are proud to have been a part of several successful articles, including a few Seven to Save properties that will move forward this year. Here’s what we know (and please share success stories from your town if we missed you):

In Rye, the town hall (Seven to Save 2015) was spared from demolition. A petitioned article asked for $3 million to raze the 1873 structure and build a three-story replacement. The Heritage Commission instead supported an option for the town to purchase a former bank building and repurpose it for town offices, thus alleviating crowding at the historic town hall. That article, too, failed.

The town hall will see its exterior painted this year, as well as the completion of a conditions assessment, which will provide rehabilitation options for the embattled building.

In Belmont, the Shaker Regional School District voters once again refused to demolish the distinctive 1894 Gale School (Seven to Save 2017). Instead, voters directed the school board to sell the vacant building to the nonprofit group, Save Our Gale School (SOGS). SOGS has just over one year to move the structure to a new location, where it will be rehabilitated by nonprofit developer, Lakes Region Community Developers. Belmont voters also approved $5,000 for their Heritage Fund and a $65,000 space needs study (which will include several underused town-owned historic buildings).

Orford voters approved the lease of the Orford Academy building to Littleton-based developer, AHEAD. The decision marked the end of a long debate over the building’s future and concern about its appropriate reuse. AHEAD (which has won preservation achievement awards for adaptive reuse at Berlin’s Notre Dame School and Littleton Hospital) will spend $3.5 million converting the brick institution into twelve senior housing units.

In Hinsdale, the Hope Engine Company No. 1 fire house will have a new home on town land after voters accepted the building. The 2017 Seven to Save project, which was saved from demolition last fall, seeks to convert the rare building into a fire fighting museum. “I feel like today was a great day for historic preservation in New Hampshire,” said Donna Suskawicz, the main proponent of the engine house’s restoration. To top it off, “I won $50.00 on a St. Patty’s scratch ticket! A lucky day.”

Stratham voters overwhelmingly approved a $150,000 article to place a preservation easement on the former town hall. The Second Empire building was sold into private hands in 1997, but a recent demolition permit alerted the Heritage Commission to its endangered status. The new owner is willing to work with the Commission to find a suitable solution that will permit a reuse, but also preserve the exterior’s features.

Speaking of Heritage Commissions, there will be two new ones in New Hampshire after approval in Sandown and Mont Vernon. Both towns also approved the creation of Heritage Funds. In the case of Sandown, two times was the charm – an attempt last year failed. Kingston voters also approved $10,000 for their Heritage Fund. Unfortunately in Kensington, a valiant effort to establish a Commission and Heritage Fund failed, 211-167. Supporters there will return next year.

Chesterfield rejected the demolition of their former town office building – a wonderful example of carpenter gothic architecture. Instead, voters approved a plan to sell the house for one dollar to a local couple who wish to rehabilitate it.

Two studies were approved: in Ashland and Mason. Ashland’s second attempt for a study at their historic 1871 town hall succeeded. The LCHIP project can now move forward. An amendment from the floor expanded the roof replacement at the Mason Town Hall to also include a conditions assessment, for a total of $18,500. A committee is now charged with listing the Greek Revival structure to the State Register of Historic Places.

New Durham voters okayed the Boodey House Committee’s proposal to move a barn in danger of demolition in nearby Alton to town land. After the barn’s assembly at the new location, the committee hopes to move forward with the reconstruction of the Zechariah Boodey house. Voters also approved $5,000 for the 1772 Meetinghouse (Seven to Save 2012).

Harrisville’s historic street lights will remain after a year of study. The decision reverses last year’s vote to replace the porcelain fixtures with more efficient lights in the National Historic Landmark village.

The Weeks Public Library in Greenland will get a sizable addition after voters approved a $3.5 million bond to expand the 1897 building. A smaller request ($25,000) in Grafton failed. There, supporters hope to move and expand the building in an effort to keep the 1921 library usable for more people.

More library news came from Groton, where voters directed the selectmen to demolish the former library and town office building. The small building – originally a chapel for the Forest Hills camp – sustained damage from flooding and according to many, is not repairable. The library itself disbanded, with services now provided by neighboring Hebron.  

Bradford Town Hall (Seven to Save 2014) will not be rehabilitated as quickly as taxpayers thought. Despite last year’s passage of a $650,000 bond, $1.3 million more was requested to complete the first floor’s work. Instead, voters opted to spend $170,000 to mothball the building.

These additional town meeting results have come to our attention:

In Chatham, voters approved a measure, 46-7, to transfer ownership of one of the town's last one room schoolhouse to the Historical Society. After the school closed in 1968, it became a library. Now the building will become headquarters of the Chatham Historical Society. 

To share news from your community, email Andrew Cushing at ac@nhpreservation.org.

Town meeting this year resulted in several preservation victories across the state.

Here’s what we learned:

Overall, voters were generous, though articles that requested smaller amounts of money to go toward planning studies or capital reserve funds were passed more easily. Persistence also seemed to pay off for the towns of Washington and Bradford, where voters approved bond measures for substantial restoration and rehabilitation work on town-owned landmarks. Advocates noted that planning for capital projects and vigorous, strategic communication were important elements to their success.

Washington Town Hall

Washington Town Hall

Washington voters approved a $1.281 million bond for restoration and rehabilitation work at their iconic 1787 meetinghouse (Seven to Save, 2014). The measure passed 135-26. Another substantial rehabilitation will happen in Bradford, where voters approved $861,000 for their town hall (Seven to Save, 2014). That money will help match an LCHIP grant of $105,000. Bradford voters also approved $50,000 to repair the Bement Covered Bridge.

Drew Mill Dam, Wakefield

Drew Mill Dam, Wakefield

In Wakefield, voters approved $24,407 for the restoration of the remaining thirty-five windows at their town hall, an amount which LCHIP will double. Voters also put $11,500 in a capital reserve for town hall maintenance. A petitioned article asking for $34,500 for engineering and repair work at the Drew Mill Dam (Seven to Save, 2012) also passed.

In Wolfeboro, voters approved three articles pertaining to the reuse of the former freight shed. The building will be leased to the Lakes Region Model Railroad Association for use as a museum. The Association will also benefit from $95,000 in a dedicated capital reserve fund intended to restore the building.

New Hampton

New Hampton

In New Hampton, threat of demolition of the grange hall prompted voters to approve $4,000 for a planning study for the building, and also $150,000 for its relocation to a new foundation nearly two miles away.

Planning studies will take place in Meredith, where $50,000 was approved for the existing library at the Benjamin M. Smith building (Seven to Save, 2016).  Nearby in Center Harbor, voters approved $7,600 for an assessment of the schoolhouse. Voters also approved $5,000 for rehabilitation of the town house, which will be used as matching funds for LCHIP. Center Harbor also created a Town Property Stewardship Expendable Trust for periodic monitoring and maintenance of town-owned assets, and funded it with $4,000.

Another Seven to Save listee in Middleton (2011) will receive $60,000 from the town for continued work at their old town hall, which includes murals by itinerant artist John Avery.

In New Durham, voters approved $10,000 to join the capital reserve fund for the old meetinghouse (Seven to Save, 2012). Similarly, Swanzey voted $50,000 in reserves toward the restoration of Whitcomb Hall. Stratham passed its Capital Improvements Plan for 2017, which includes $50,000 for a Heritage Preservation Fund.

A straw poll in Belmont provided answers to three questions posed to voters regarding the future of the Belmont Mill. Article 6 asked if the building should be used for town offices and community space (440 yes – 267 no). Article 7 asked if the building should be demolished (170 yes – 522 no). Article 8 asked if the building should be sold, which drew a closer vote (383 yes – 320 yes).

Windham

Windham

Two communities also adopted preservation tools that will help advance preservation projects. Lancaster will join thirty communities that have adopted RSA 79-E, a tax incentive tool for revitalizing downtown commercial buildings. Windham voters approved an article to allow the Conservation Commission to pursue a permanent “curatorship lease agreement” for the Campbell Farm House. The Italianate house sits on 62 acres of conservation land acquired by the town in 2014, but until this year, the status of the house was in question. The new directive will allow the Commission to find a tenant who will monitor, maintain, repair, restore, and improve the house as part of the lease.

Energy efficiency projects also received attention this year. Grafton’s town hall will receive $10,000 worth of electrical and systems upgrades. Voters in Littleton said yes to $44,200 worth of energy improvements at the opera house, at the recommendation of an energy audit, and voters in Wilton approved $300,000 worth of heating, wiring, and safety upgrades at their town hall.

Measures that were not successful this year included Ashland School (Seven to Save, 2007) for $625,000 for use as the town library and an article requesting $18,250 for a planning study to match an LCHIP award. In Rye, all three articles relating to the town hall (Seven to Save, 2015) failed: one asking $3.2 million to restore and expand the existing town hall, one asking $500,000 to restore the town hall exterior and address ADA concerns, and one asking $3.4 million to build a facsimile of the old town hall on the same site.  David Choate, who helped Rye Heritage Commission members communicate the benefits of the rehabilitation, said “we’re disappointed, but know this work can take time. We welcome advice as we work on plans for the building’s continuing use and improvement.”

Also unsuccessful was an attempt to add an elevator shaft to the Deerfield Town Hall, though the town hall will receive a new roof. An attempt in Sandown to create the state’s sixty-third Heritage Commission failed, 314-270.

Please contact Andrew Cushing at ac@nhpreservation.org with additions, corrections or comments. The Preservation Alliance was pleased to help several of the “winners” to succeed, and appreciates the opportunity to help all communities with projects for Town Meeting and other important events throughout the year.