Union Station sale proposed

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BRATTLEBORO — With about $2 million in improvements planned at Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, the town has been asked to consider selling Union Station, the building it leases to the nonprofit at $1 per year.

"BMAC is contemplating making significant improvements to Union Station, in order to ensure the building's longevity, to make it accessible to all, and to accommodate expanded and enhanced museum programs that will better serve our community and attract more visitors to the area," Danny Lichtenfeld, museum director, said Tuesday in an email.

His group "cannot raise that much money only to invest it in a building we do not own," he said, so the town has been approached about a sale.

The plan is to replace a 26-year-old membrane roof on the south portion of the building, repoint the building's stone exterior, and reconfigure parking and landscaping as roadway changes are coming related to the construction of a new bridge to Hinsdale, N.H. Structural and cosmetic improvements to the building are anticipated on the side facing the railroad tracks and Connecticut River.

Space inside the southern portion of the building is to be reconfigured to better accommodate performances and large events. Energy efficiency in the building is to be improved via new systems, insulation, windows and doors. And the front entrance, the elevated portion of the main gallery and administrative offices on the lower floors is to be made fully accessible to those with mobility impairments.

Part of the work, Lichtenfeld said, is about accommodating a "growing number" of school groups visiting the museum every year by creating a space where hands-on educational activities can take place.

An announcement about negotiations was made during Tuesday night's Select Board meeting. Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor said the town had been approached by the museum about buying the Union Station building.

"There have been some discussions in executive session," she said, as the subject relates to real estate or lease options. "I guess we'll wait to see what happens. We'll keep you posted."

Town Manager Peter Elwell said no price tag has been negotiated yet but he anticipates working on having a figure ready for January when the annual Representative Town Meeting warning is approved by the board. Town Meeting members would then consider the sale in March.

The Vernon Road building was assessed at $378,000, according to the town's 2018 grand list. It had once been a railroad station but "as federal transportation priorities shifted after World War II to planes and automobiles, many towns, including Brattleboro, lost their passenger rail connections," according to greatamericanstations.com. "Union Station closed in September 1966 and was sold to the town. A proposal to raze the building and create a parking lot prompted concerned residents to work with city officials to consider reuse options for the structure. In 1972, it reopened as the home of [BMAC] ... A year later, Amtrak took over the ground floor for use as a waiting room to serve passengers on the Montrealer, replaced in 1995 by the Vermonter. In recognition of its material integrity and tangible ties to Brattleboro's extensive rail heritage, the station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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