The Dummerston Historical Society. (Kayla Rice/Reformer file photo)
The Dummerston Historical Society. (Kayla Rice/Reformer file photo)

DUMMERSTON -- Over the course of two centuries, the town's old schoolhouse has been moved and has survived several functional changes.

Now, Dummerston Historical Society wants to expand the building that has become its headquarters.

Though many details are not yet available, the Selectboard this week gave their blessing for the society to continue planning the project as long as members return with more details when they're available.

"I think it's the consensus of this board that we support your proposal and want to see more specifics," Selectboard member Joe Cook said.

Historical society members have for years talked about expanding the former schoolhouse, which also has been used as a town garage and is located adjacent to the town office in Dummerston Center.

"We don't have a lot of storage space. We don't have a lot of working office space," said Jody Normandeau, the organization's treasurer.

Finances were one obstacle to expansion. But the society's fortunes changed with the donation of a large amount of memorabilia that had belonged to former U.S. ambassador and Dummerston resident Ellsworth Bunker.

"He gave boxes and boxes of things," Normandeau said of Ellsworth Bunker's son, Sam Bunker, who also lives in town. "Some of those items, we have retained -- particularly items that are related to Dummerston."

Some of the other donated items went to auction, with proceeds of approximately $60,000 benefiting the historical society.

"With what we got from the auction, it made us realize there may even be enough to put an addition on," Normandeau said.

Those plans, though still preliminary, are beginning to take shape. The idea is to construct a one-story addition on the southwest corner of the historical society building. Plans would not include installation of a rest room at the former schoolhouse. That was deemed both too expensive and, possibly, a burden to the town's septic system.

While the historical society owns the building and pays to insure it, the land belongs to the town of Dummerston.

"We don't want the town to have to do anything here," Normandeau said.

Those planning the historical-society expansion now believe a rest room in the town office could serve both buildings. Such an arrangement would require changing the alarm system at the town office so that the building's outer doors could be accessed by the public with a key.

"The historical society, or people using that building, could use the existing bathroom here, because (the lack of a rest room) has been a big drawback for meetings at the historical society building," Charles Fish, the society's vice president, told Selectboard members this week in meeting at the town office.

"And the town could use the historical society for meetings when it would be convenient," Fish added.

He made clear that the society is not asking the town for any money for the project.

"We have a substantial amount of money, as you know, from the Bunker gift. And that certainly will take us a long way," Fish said. "Whether it would do it all, I don't know. Probably not quite. But we hope that we could raise whatever additional money is needed through grants."

He could not yet say, however, how much the project might cost. Society members also could not provide the proposed addition's square footage or design.

"Certainly, once we have formal drawings, we would bring them to you," Fish told the Selectboard.

The historical society has been pledged help from a local architect. What the society members needed this week, Fish said, was an indication that town officials generally approved of the project before the group invested more time and resources into the project.

The lack of specifics troubled some Selectboard members.

"Before I say I would approve something, I want to know what it's going to look like," board member Lewis White said.

Others had no issue with a preliminary show of support.

"I think we're giving them the confidence to go forward and get a plan and then come back and show it so we can approve or not approve the actual building," Selectboard member Bill Holiday said.

Holiday, however, also expressed concern about the design of an addition.

"The historical integrity of the building must be maintained at all costs," he said.

After some debate, the board voted unanimously to support the historical society's project pending submission of detailed plans.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.