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New Ipswich

Old Town Hall deemed unsafe

Select Board reverses earlier decision

NEW IPSWICH — Despite an earlier decision to allow th e use of the Old Town Hall for an annual rummage sale at the Children’s Fair, the Select Board recently overturned that decision after hearing the limits that would have to be placed on the building in order for the fire chief to issue an occupancy permit. The hall will now be used only for storage of sale items prior to the fair.

During its meeting July 15, the Select Board met with several members of the Old Town Hall Committee and Fire Chief David Leel to discuss the use of the Old Town Hall during the Children’s Fair White Elephant rummage sale. The building has been a source of safety concerns for several years, with a section of the hall being cordoned off during the sale for the last several years, due to a crumbling foundation sill on one side of the hall. This year, the board contracted an engineer to review the building, who recommended that the Old Town Hall not be used for public gatherings until the sill was repaired or shored up.

In a board meeting earlier in the month, the board voted 2-1 to allow the Children’s Fair to use the building for one last year, again with the side with the deteriorating sill blocked off. However, during their July 15 meeting, Fire Chief David Leel said he did not feel comfortable issuing an occupancy permit, considering the engineer’s report. Though he personally felt the building should not be used, he would be satisfied with lowering the occupancy allowance of the building from 50 to no more than 15 or 20 people, and using a staff of volunteer firefighters for a safety watch on the day of the fair, he told the board. With that information in mind, the board decided to reconsider their previous decision.

Old Town Hall Committee member Jay Hopkins said at the July 15 meeting that it would be a shame for the board’s to change its decision on the matter, considering the fair is fast approaching.

Select Board member Becky Doyle replied that this has been an ongoing issue for more than seven years, and the Congregational Church, which puts on the fair, is well aware of the issue and has been for years. Doyle, who was the dissenting vote in the Board’s July 1 decision to allow use of the building this year, said she would prefer to see the building remain unoccupied during fair day, due to safety concerns.

“Why are we determined to put people in a building that’s been deemed unsafe?” asked Doyle. “The liability the town will incur letting people in is astronomical.”

Children’s Fair Committee member Bill Kivela, who is also a member of the Old Town Hall Committee, asked if the board would be willing to allow the fair to store items in the Old Town Hall as they are collected prior to the fair, and then use the grounds surrounding the hall during the sale. The lawn is already used to some extent during the sale, he said, so it would just be a matter of extending that use.

Leel said he would be fine with allowing the hall for that use.

The board voted 2-0, with Doyle abstaining, to allow the Children’s Fair to use the Old Town Hall for storage of rummage items in one half of the building, with no sale activity to occur in the building on fair day.

Ed Rogers, a member of the Old Town Hall Committee, said this may be an opportunity to make people aware of what kind of shape the hall is in, and for the town to make a decision about the future of the building. “We have to take a look at this building as a community and decide what we want to do with it,” he said. “We can keep it and maintain it, sell it, or watch it fall down.”

According to the Children’s Fair Facebook page, due to the recent decision, the Children’s Fair is no longer accepting public donations for the White Elephant or rummage sale. There will still be a sale held with already accepted donations and some donations the fair had committed to taking, according to the post. The White Elephant sale will be on the lawn outside of the hall, and in the yard of the old church parsonage. The fair is still accepting auction-worthy items for the annual Ackerson Auction.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

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