$8.6M renovation of Old Town Hall in Easthampton enters second phase

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 03-29-2023 2:24 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A second and key phase of renovation and conversion of Old Town Hall into a center for the arts is expected to begin next month, though officials say the overall cost of the three-phase project has shot up by $1.7 million because of inflation and supply chain issues.

The second phase involves making each floor of the two-story, 154-year-old brick building at 43 Main St. wheelchair accessible with the installation of an elevator and a new entryway. The building used to house the Town Hall office, library and Town Meeting spaces.

When plans were first established in 2018, the price tag for the project was $6.9 million, but five years later has increased to $8.6 million, according to Burns Maxey, president of CitySpace, the nonprofit group that manages Old Town Hall and leases space there to Easthampton City Arts and Big Red Frame/The Elusie Gallery.

After speaking with the project’s architect, Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, Maxey said they were able to make the overall project more feasible by splitting it up into three phases.

“I’m proud to say that we’ve completed the first half-a-million-dollar phase of the project that lays the groundwork for phase two,” she said.

Although there is a ramp on the exterior of the building that provides wheelchair users access, results from the ADA Self-evaluation and Transition Plan by consultants from Worcester nonprofit organization Center for Living & Working shows that there are some issues with this accessible entryway, said Maxey. The report showed that the entryway is not user-friendly as it is difficult to find and the support system for the ramp is deteriorating.

This past year, CitySpace also opened the 1,600-square-foot performance venue, the Blue Room and hosted close to 100 events within that space.

“We find that there are a number of people that call us that want to come into the building, find out how they can see what’s happening, and it’s hard for them to locate that current ramp, and it’s hard for them to get up it,” she said. “Accessibility is so deeply critical when we talk about inclusion. …We want to create something that’s more welcoming, that’s ADA- (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible.”

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In addition to the elevator and new entryway, the second phase — which begins in April — includes a restored stained glass window that will be moved and prominently displayed in the front of the building.

“The construction fits with the current structure, but it’s really differentiated from the historic buildings so it doesn’t take away from that integrity that was originally established with the architecture,” she said.

The third phase of the project includes the remaining restoration of the second floor, including asbestos removal, replication of historic moldings, the installation of theatrical lighting, acoustic treatments and more. The third phase will begin in 2024.

Maxey recently spoke at a meeting where members of the City Council approved the intra-departmental transfer of $1.25 million for the second phase of the project.

Precinct 5 Councilor Dan Rist, who is also chairman of the Community Preservation Act Committee, explained that the funding is not a new appropriation. Funding was part of a larger $3.25 million appropriation of CPA money approved last year.

“The CPA committee has been saving through the city council’s appropriation process, each budget year $250,000 for the last five or six years to accumulate this cash,” he said.

Maxey told the council that the CPA award and transfer of funding was “instrumental” in moving the project forward and will more than match the required funding for the second phase of the project. In order to go out to bid, the full backing must be established.

To close the gap, Maxey said CitySpace is working with many of its current donors who have pledges established, such as bankESB, and is putting a call out to those to invest in the project. With those funders coming forward, Maxey said they have about $65,000 to raise in cash before the project goes out to bid.

“From the beginning, this project has been created and made by the power of the people,” she said. “Every dollar makes a difference in making Old Town Hall wheelchair accessible. I believe together we can do it.”

Those interested in learning more about the project can do so at CitySpace’s open house on March 30. The event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. and include tours of the building, music courtesy of the Green Street Duo and gallery exhibitions.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>