Conditions with church limit use

WILTON — The Wilton Community Center still lacks a home, and the Community Center Committee has discovered it is unable to legally accept the Sacred Heart Church and rectory building on Maple Street with its current conditions. The Select Board is standing by previous decisions not to accept the building without a standard operating budget in place .

At Town Meeting in March, the town voted to give the Select Board authorization to accept a gift of the Sacred Heart Church and rectory on Maple Street for use as a Community Center, but declined to approve an operating budget for the building. Without those funds the board won’t accept the building, said Select Board Chair Dan Donovan during a July 29 Select Board Meeting. The board has also expressed qualms about the conditions regarding the use of the church laid out by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester . With the conditions attached, the building couldn’t be used for activities that would conflict with the morals of the Catholic Church. That means the space couldn’t, for example, become a liquor store, tattoo parlor, abortion clinic or adult book or video store , but it would also preclude it from being used by another religious group.

Previously, the board had discussed the possibility of the Wilton Community Center Committee being the entity to accept the church. However, according to committee member Joanna Eckstrom, that’s not currently possible. After speaking with a representative at the N.H. Department of Justice, there are two things standing in the way of the committee accepting the church, said Eckstrom. First, the group is still in the process of obtaining a 501-c3 nonprofit status. The church would likely require that before gifting the church to the committee, she said. More importantly, the Community Center Committee articles of agreement state that its membership is open to anyone in Wilton and the surrounding communities. As long as the conditions for accepting the church include language that supports one religious doctrine over another, the committee cannot take ownership of the church, said Eckstrom.

The Community Center Committee has continued fundraising efforts, but hasn’t had any significant donations to support an operating budget, said committee member Alison Meltzer at the July 29 meeting .

Eckstrom told the board that if a location is secured for the community center , the committee might have an easier time securing donations. “It can be funded, but having a building would make it easier,” she said.

Select Board member Rick Swanson asked if the committee was still meeting regularly and planning events. “When [proposition of a community center] was in the wind , one of the positive things was that you maintained momentum,” he told the committee, referring to the community center proposal.

The committee is still active, said Eckstrom, although now that it is established the committee will be reducing the frequency of its meetings from twice a month to just once a month. The committee is still planning community events, including a Farm-to-Table event later this month . The dinner will be prepared using locally grown produce, with the funds raised going to support efforts to establish a Wilton Community Center. The event is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 21, and will be held in the Main Street Park under the tent.

Eckstrom told the board that during the Community Center Committee’s next meeting, the committee will be electing its first official board and signing a charitable trust agreement with the state of New Hampshire , and will continue to move forward in obtaining a 501-c3 non-profit status.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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