Dummerston Historical Society has received Selectboard permission to proceed with an expansion of the society s headquarters, a former schoolhouse next to
Dummerston Historical Society has received Selectboard permission to proceed with an expansion of the society s headquarters, a former schoolhouse next to the town office in Dummerston Center. (Mike Faher/Reformer)

DUMMERSTON -- A treasure trove of memorabilia from a famous ambassador will fund a long-discussed expansion of Dummerston Historical Society's headquarters.

Society members on Wednesday received the Selectboard's go-ahead to proceed with building an addition on the historic schoolhouse building in Dummerston Center.

Most funding for the project will come from a previous auction of donated items from the estate of U.S. ambassador and Dummerston resident Ellsworth Bunker. The society received an approximately $60,000 windfall from that auction, and the building project is expected to cost up to $70,000.

"We're going to stay within our budget," said Charles Fish, a member of the historical society and the Schoolhouse Building Committee.

The old schoolhouse has been moved and changed over two centuries. It now is owned and insured by the historical society and sits on land owned by the town, adjacent to the town office.

Society members have been discussing their need for more storage and working space. The proposed addition, a joint venture of the historical society and the town, is expected to provide that extra space, which also will be available for town functions.

"The town will have access to a meeting space in the schoolhouse that is bigger than the town office building affords, and visitors to the schoolhouse will have access to the office rest room," Fish wrote in a letter to the Selectboard.

It might have been difficult for the project to move forward had it not been for a donation from Sam Bunker, son of Ellsworth Bunker, who had been a high-ranking diplomat for three decades.

When Ellsworth Bunker died in 1984, the New York Times noted that he had been "one of this country's most skilled and patient negotiators" and had "capped a distinguished career by serving as ambassador to South Vietnam during the six years in which the United States became most deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War."

The Bunker donation included items of local importance, which were retained by Dummerston Historical Society. But other items were auctioned.

"It netted us $60,000 in our budget, which was beyond our usual income," Fish said, drawing laughter from those in attendance at Wednesday's Selectboard meeting.

With that cash, the society has roughly $70,000 in the bank, members said. And so they are pursuing a 16-by-16-foot extension at the south end of the old schoolhouse's existing extension, which is the same size.

"The total addition, old and new, would have unbroken exterior wall and roof lines and would look as if it had always been there," Fish wrote, adding that, with a lower roof line than the main building, the extension "would give the whole a balanced appearance."

A possible addition to the plans is an 8-by-24-foot shed-roof structure at the west wall of the combined additions. That is not shown on current conceptual drawings because "it may not fall within the budget," Fish wrote.

Inside the addition would be a 10-by-16-foot mezzanine or balcony, "opening to the south, with sturdy stairs and railing," the letter says.

"This would provide more storage space and perhaps work space," Fish wrote.

On the south wall of the existing addition, windows would be filled in and a door added. "The hutch now at the entrance to this area will be moved back, enlarging the meeting space now provided by the main building," Fish wrote.

All told, the project would add about 400 square feet to the building.

Some aspects of the addition, including windows, finishes and furniture, might change as the project proceeds. "Some other things, too -- the size might have to be tweaked," Fish told the Selectboard.

The society submitted, and the Selectboard approved, a motion saying "it is understood that the Building Committee has the authority to decide on design and finishing details that will inevitably come up, and to change the size of the addition and mezzanine depending on budget or design refinements."

There had been some concerns that the project could impact the septic system on the property, which includes the town office. But Fish said that, based on the committee's plans, "it would appear that this isn't going to interfere at all with the septic," Fish said.

The society, having now received the Selectboard's blessing, still must obtain local and state permits for the project. Depending on how that process goes, society members want to break ground "as soon as it's prudently possible," Fish said.

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