Tuesday October 9, 2012

SAXTONS RIVER -- An old and condemned building was demolished Monday as part of some good old-fashioned home improvement by Main Street Arts.

The board of directors at MSA, a non-profit community arts center, wants to expand the operation to the spot next door, make it more accessible and add certain features. Monday’s demolition at 33 Main St. was the jump-start of the organization’s capital campaign -- entitled "Moving Forward, Moving Up" -- to construct a two-story building in the space.

Managing Director Margo Ghia said the entire structure was knocked down on Monday and the contractor -- Buck Adams of Westminster -- hopes to have all debris removed from the site by the end of the week. She said the project is expected to be completed and opened to the public by 2013, which will coincide with the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Main Street Arts has been planning this work for about a year and a half and consulted with a structural engineer before deciding to tear it down. According to Kathleen Bryar, chairwoman of the Capital Campaign Committee, the engineer said the downside to installing an elevator in the old building is that there could be a problem later on. Though one could be placed on the side of the building, there was not much room to do that.

A building will essentially, Bryar said, be developed around an elevator once it is installed.

Funds were raised over the summer to acquire the old building. Bryar said it was a difficult process because money had to be generated and tax liens needed to be dealt with. Also, the building’s owner had to be tracked down and turned out to be living in Chicago, Bryar said.

The decision to demolish the building was not an easy one, Ghia said, and every effort was made to spare it. Knocking down the structure wound up being the best option.

"It had a long and vibrant history on Main Street but it got to the point where it was detracting from the community," she said. "It went very smoothly today."

Louise Luring, of MSA’s publicity committee, said the building has housed various businesses over the years, including a pizza shop, an ice cream parlor and a shoe store.

Bryar, who mentioned the Saxtons River Village Board of Trustees condemned the building, said Main Street Arts worked with historic preservationists to ensure everything was being done appropriately.

Ghia said the construction work will develop a lobby, gallery and porch which currently don’t exist at MSA. She said new stairwells that are wider and less steep than the current ones will also be built and there will be additional offices and expanded storage and classroom space.

"We’re incredibly excited," she said.

Ghia said requests for proposal (or RFPs) will be sent out for final architectural plans.

The MSA board plans to raise $875,000 for the project and has already secured $675,000 in federal and state grants, board support and gifts-in-kind.

Bryar said MSA, under the sponsorship of the village trustees, applied for and received a $300,000 grant from the Vermont Community Development Program. She said members of the organization’s board even pledged $80,000 of their own money.

MSA will also benefit from $85,000 in tax credits from Vermont.

"It’s a bold venture, for sure," Bryar said, adding that the organization is now turning to the public for financial donations.

She said the project has been a tough battle, but she compared MSA and its fortitude to The Little Engine That Could.

"(The demolition) was the most momentous occasion in our history. We never gave up," she said. "Main Street Arts is the heartbeat of the community. It’s such an important cultural resource for the community, not just Saxtons River."

MSA offers arts classes, theater, exercise, dance and events all year long and draws students, performers and audiences from southeastern Vermont and southwestern New Hampshire.

Further information is available by contacting MSA at 802-869-2960 and info@mainstreetarts.org or visiting www.mainstreetarts.org.

Main Street Arts also has a Facebook page.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.