Historic hall set for upgrades in Newfane


NEWFANE -- At the ripe old age of 104, Williamsville Hall is set for some much-needed modernization.

The town has awarded an $11,413 bid for electrical upgrades that will make the building more functional while also setting the stage for weatherization work.

The hope is that the hall, which sits mostly dormant during the winter, eventually can be used year-round.

"This is a historic building, and it's really the center of this small community," said Myra Fassler, a member of the volunteer Williamsville Hall Committee. "What happened during Irene showed us how very important this building could be."

Fassler was referring to the central role Williamsville Hall played in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, when ferocious floodwaters ripped through South Newfane and Williamsville.

The hall was not damaged and subsequently served as a meeting place and relief center for many Newfane residents.

"It was sort of the staging area for drop-offs, for food, shelter, clothing. We set up Wi-Fi. A phone line was established," said Jon Julian, a committee member who lives near the hall. "So it was really a lifeline to the outside world."

That focus on Williamsville Hall would have been unthinkable decades ago, when the building had fallen into disrepair.

Constructed by Williamsville Grange in 1910, the hall was a popular meeting spot in its heyday. Changing times and dwindling membership led to the grange folding in 1969, and the hall was deeded to the town.

"For years, the place was pretty much abandoned," Julian said, recalling that a group of volunteers began putting work into Williamsville Hall roughly two decades ago.

Since then, said Steve Levine, who heads the Williamsville Hall Committee, improvements have been made "piece by piece."

Today, the hall hosts a popular, monthly senior meal and an occasional movie series: Currently, a six-part history of Vermont is being screened, with the next installment scheduled for July 12.

There also are weddings, parties, concerts and meetings including Newfane Town Meeting every other year.

"It's available for rental to the public for very reasonable fees, especially if you're a resident of Newfane," Levine said.

But there are issues with the building, including a lack of insulation that makes heating the hall an expensive proposition. The town had set aside $5,000 for Williamsville Hall weatherization, but there was a problem with that, too.

"The first thing you do is put insulation in your ceiling," Levine said. "But we couldn't, because it had knob-and-tube (wiring). We had to fix the electrical before we could weatherize."

An initial request for bids yielded an electrical-upgrade quote that was more than double the town's available money. That problem was remedied with voters' decision to allocate another $10,000 for Williamsville Hall in fiscal year 2015.

With $15,000 available as of July 1, Newfane Selectboard last week was able to accept an $11,413 bid from Brattleboro-based Cleveland Electric.

Along with replacing knob-and-tube wiring, the company will perform work including upgrading the entire electrical system to 200-amp service; installing more outlets; fixing emergency lights; hard-wiring smoke detectors; and running a larger-capacity line to the hall's kitchen.

That work is expected to happen soon. With some money left over in the town's capital fund and in a separate donation account, and with the possibility of a historic-preservation grant in the works, hall advocates are hoping to tackle other upgrades next.

"Nothing fancy. We're not air-conditioning the place. Just basic improvements, and bringing it up to code," Levine said. "If we can get the windows fixed and put some insulation in the ceiling, that would be a huge improvement."

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


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