Guest columnist Carolyn Holstein: Save the North Hadley Village Hall

  • The 1864 North Hadley Village Hall at 239 River Drive in Hadley. gazette file photo/kevin guttin

Published: 6/17/2019 12:24:53 PM

In 1864, a splendid new school building was built in North Hadley Village Center.

The land, 0.3 acres right along Lake Warner, was given to the town by Lorenzo Granger, a wealthy patron. (The land is less than half what the parcel is today.)

The architect was William Fenno Pratt, a celebrated architect who designed many outstanding homes and buildings in the area. Examples are Northampton City Hall and the superb Oliver Smith building in downtown Northampton. In Amherst, the Austin Dickinson house was a Pratt design and is now part of the Dickinson Museum.

Just to the east are the two Hills mansions, also designed by Pratt, one of which is now the Amherst Women’s Club, with apartments upstairs. The other Hills house has been restored.

The North Hadley school building was the only building designed by Mr. Pratt in Hadley that this writer is aware of, though the restored Granger house across the street that is now apartments may have been a Pratt design.

The school was built mainly in the Italianate style, with ornately carved corbels holding up the eaves, decorative cornices over the windows and doors, tall windows, a unique Palladion window above the front entrance, with a cupola on top of the building. The roof, not the Italianate flat style, was pitched to accommodate New England winters. This building definitely has “good bones.”

After many years as a school, it became a community building, and housed a library, a town meeting room upstairs with a stage, Parks and Recreation activities, Boy Scout and Girl Scout meetings, fitness classes, and more. It was a well used building, day and evening, and was a focal point for the social life of the village. It has served Hadley well.

Shouldn’t Hadley honor this building with a use that will not cost the town much, but will continue to serve the town? That is, a privately restored building with dwelling units that can add to the tax base and to the aesthetics of this historic Village Center, without impacting the open space to the north.

The town received a grant to renovate the building in 1962. But like all 150-year-old buildings, constant upkeep is required, and unfortunately that upkeep has not kept pace with the deterioration. Also unfortunate was the continued use of the copula by pigeons that resulted in the floor of the copula collapsing. Since pigeon guano is considered hazardous waste, the cost to remove it was quite high. Costs piled high and deep for this wonderful, but neglected, building. In 2014 the building was condemned, and all use, including the Park & Recreation office, was terminated. But an article that year was passed at Town Meeting that supported the sale of the building. The garage, which had been added for the fire department, is not part of the original building and can be removed.

In 2015, an applicant offered to buy the building for $100,000 and restore it for condominiums. (Restoration costs $3.4 million at least.) The new occupants of the building would be older folks, not students. For some reason the Zoning Board of Appeals turned this application down.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why. The units were small, for singles or a couple. Professional adults don’t have wild parties; they usually have one car per pair; they make great neighbors and citizens. And the zoning bylaw allows this use! (see Section 19.1.6)

Since the recent Town Meeting in May, the Select Board has been deliberating about what to do — continue to offer to sell the building, divide the property so that half of the land will remain open space (there is 62,000 square feet of area, much more than the original parcel), or consider demolishing this historic building, which will be very expensive for the town.

The Select Board has opted to put a nonbinding question on the ballet for the Tuesday referendum — save or demolish. The members of the Historical Commission are strongly in favor of saving and restoring this building, to sell it if possible. We urge all citizens to vote on Tuesday, and to vote no on demolishing this unique building that once was the heart of the North Hadley village.

Carolyn Holstein is a member of the Hadley Historical Commission.

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