The eligibility of the Bellows Falls Garage to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places is under review.

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BELLOWS FALLS — The eligibility of the 100-year-old Bellows Falls Garage to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places is under review, the state’s historic preservation officer said Thursday.

The Windham Windsor Housing Trust’s most recent plans call for the demolition of all but the front facade of the building on Rockingham Street, and the construction of a new wood-and-steel structure to house 27 apartments. Original plans called for reusing the existing building, which has housed everything from a commune to a dry cleaners and a car dealership in its life.

Laura Trieschmann, the Vermont state historic preservation officer, said the review her office has launched is a standard review because federal funds are involved in the housing trust’s project. The old garage is not included in the current Bellows Falls Village Historic District, and whether it should be included is now under review.

“The Bellows Falls Garage is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but the Section 106 process requires an evaluation to determine if it is eligible for listing,” Trieschmann said.

Elizabeth Bridgewater, executive director of the housing trust, said the state Historic Preservation Office in 2019 had determined that the Bellows Falls Garage was not eligible for the national register.

“However, they are relooking at it so we are in the preliminary phase which will either confirm their earlier determination or change it,” she said. “We decided to wait until this determination is complete before presenting our plans to the (Rockingham) Development Review Board so that we are confident our plans reflect designs that are consistent with any required guidelines that may result from this process.”

Walter Wallace, Rockingham’s historic preservation coordinator, said Scott Newman, a historic preservation consultant, was hired by the housing trust to do the review and that the Rockingham historic preservation committee had already met with him earlier this week.

“The Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires a review of federally funded development projects that have potential areas of effect on historically significant structures and landscapes,” Wallace wrote in an email.

“The state historic preservation officer requested WWHT to hire a historian to prepare an assessment of the historical significance of the BF Garage building, as it appears to be a rare form of early modernist industrial engineering and architecture revealed after the wooden façade was removed from the structure,” he added.

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As Rockingham is a certified local government, which brings in historic preservation funding from the state, “the Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission is an interested party providing consultation to the review process,” he added.

Newman is compiling “a narrative with supporting material (pictures, engineering studies, historical documents) and will submit a report to WWHT within the next few weeks.”

The housing trust then will turn the report over to the state, which will then send it to the Rockingham commission, he said.

“The state historic preservation officer will then determine if the BF Garage building is of historic significance,” he said..

Wallace said the local historic commission would act at its next regular meeting on April 12, “if not sooner by way of a special meeting.”

Trieschmann emphasized that the Section 106 process would not evaluate the merits of the housing trust’s project, but simply whether the building is worthy of being on the register.

Questions about the building’s historic significance — an unusual Art Deco era concrete structure — were raised when the housing trust had to change the scope of its project because of costs.

The housing trust had submitted an amended application to the Rockingham Design Review Board but withdrew the application last week because of the eligibility review, according to Charles “Chuck” Wise, the Rockingham zoning administrator. The project was originally due to be reviewed by the design review board Wednesday night, but the board didn’t discuss it.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com