copyright the Chronicle May 7, 2014
by Joseph Gresser
ISLAND POND — The renovation of the Brighton Town Hall was among ten projects recognized for outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation at the 2014 Vermont Preservation and Downtown Conference Friday.
A sizeable contingent of Vermont’s historical preservation community gathered in the Town Hall in the center of Island Pond on May 1 to discuss shared interests and plan for further projects.
The annual event is presented in a different community each year. In odd numbered years it is hosted by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, in even numbered ones, by the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV).
The conference was held in Island Pond at the insistence of Ann Cousins, a PTV field service officer, said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the PTV. She wanted to showcase the work done on the building, he said, and through it “the pride and passion people have for this place.”
The crowd that gathered for the conference clearly appreciated the work that went into restoring the former opera house to a large measure of its former glory.
Many of them were excited enough about Island Pond’s architectural heritage that they arrived in town a day before the conference to take part in an event they called Hands on Hammers.
For a day these volunteers worked to put new board and batten siding on Christ Church, a stunning English Gothic style structure built in 1875 that stands directly across the railroad tracks from the town hall. In addition to restoring the exterior, workers also helped clean out the interior of the building.
Brighton’s project was one of ten recognized with awards. Others included the remarkable work done to reopen Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington, after it was torn off its foundation by the Deerfield River during Tropical Storm Irene; and the refurbishment of the Stanislaus School in West Rutland, a project that kept many historical details of the old school while creating 17 units of affordable and energy efficient housing.
Restoration at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, which included replacing squeaky seats; the renewal of a century old Queen Anne style house by Green Mountain College as a community center for the people of Poultney; and the rehabilitation of the Bellows Falls Middle School, transforming an old rundown building to a twenty-first century educational resource, were some of the other projects recognized with awards.
The Island Pond project was the last to be recognized and after a video presentation showing what was involved in stripping the old siding of the Town Hall, doing the research to find what color paint originally graced its exterior, and putting in new windows and insulation, Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux, chairman of the Brighton selectmen, Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope, and Jay Ancel of Black River Design, the architect for the project, took the stage.
Ms. Gervais-Lamoureux, in welcoming the preservationists to the conference, gave much of the credit for the project to Mr. Cope. “It was his baby,” she said.
When Mr. Cope accepted the award for the town he gave credit to everyone involved, especially the taxpayers of Brighton who “had faith in the project.”
According to the citation, voters appropriated up to $120,000 for the restoration of the 125-year-old building, and Mr. Cope pulled together another $600,000 in federal and state grants to bring it to fruition.
Mr. Cope said he was “truly humbled” to have the town’s work honored alongside that of the other nine award recipients.
He also thanked Mother Nature for her help.
“When we were trying to decide about removing the siding, knowing it was a big step, in January 2011, Mother Nature sent a big wind right down the main channel and ripped down about 150 square feet of it,” he said.
Finally, Mr. Cope praised the builders of the Town Hall, who “put their heart and soul into this,” he said.
Before the presentation of awards, the 150 or so people in attendance heard from Nancy Boone, formerly Vermont’s deputy state preservation officer and architectural historian, now federal preservation officer with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Ms. Boone spoke about ways of combining the preservation ethic with efforts to provide housing for people around the country.
One example she offered was the reconstruction of the Iberville neighborhood, near the French Quarter in New Orleans. Although the area was not affected by the flooding of Hurricane Katrina, the neighborhood has traditionally housed lower income people.
Current HUD policy, Ms. Boone said, is to “desegregate poverty,” that is, to create areas where people of different income levels live close together.
One of the things that has complicated the renovation of the area, she said, is the pride residents have in its past as the site of the city’s brothels and their unwillingness to see traces of the past effaced by renovation.
HUD is also working in other cities where declining population has led to broken neighborhoods. In some places, she said, people are taking matters into their own hands.
She told of one city where residents realized that vacant houses in their neighborhood were being used to house drug dealers.
A woman went up to the front door of one of these houses and knocked, Ms. Boone said. After some scuttling around inside, the door opened and a man peered out.
The woman acted surprised and told the man, “I just bought the house and thought everyone would be out today.”
“Oh, I thought that was next week,” the dealer replied. “We’ll be out today.”
He was as good as his word, Ms. Boone told her audience.
Afternoon sessions included one on structures put up in Vermont state parks in the 1960s, all in a style known as mid-century modern.
These are the familiar low-roofed buildings seen around the state. The recently torn down Stateside lodge at Jay Peak was an example of this.
According to presenters Lyssa Papazian and Devin Coleman, the Jay building was an example of mid-century modern featuring a butterfly roofline.
Ms. Papazian said certain styles of architecture are at risk for demolition during the time between their heyday and the time when people begin to find them charming.
After her presentation, Ms. Papazian admitted that she has been trying to learn to love mid-century modern, but has not quite succeeded so far.
Scott Newman and Kaitlin O’Shea, who deal with issues of historic preservation at the Agency of Transportation, gave a presentation on the state of Vermont railroad buildings.
Starting out with a map of the state’s former railway system that looked like nothing so much as a star chart, they moved to the current map, which includes about ten active stations.
The remaining stations, Mr. Newman and Ms. O’Shea explained sat neglected for many years, but recently have been given new life. They showed such examples of preservation as the recent renovation of the Waterbury Station and the Hardwick Depot.
Even after a day of preservation talk, many of the attendees were not satisfied. When Mr. Cope offered to take people up to tour the town hall’s unfinished third floor, he found plenty of takers.
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]