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New Ipswich

Board mulls the fate of the Old Town Hall

August rummage sale will be the last use of the building, until repairs to south wall are completed

  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)
  • New Ipswich Old Town Hall (Staff photo by Maxine Joselow)

NEW IPSWICH — Despite the objections of one Select Board member, the board voted on Tuesday to allow at least one more year’s use of the Old Town Hall as a location for the White Elephant rummage sale during the annual Children’s Fair.

The Old Town Hall, located on Main Street, across from the Congregational Church, sees little use these days, with its primary function being during the fair once a year. For the past several years, the Select Board has discussed whether to continue to allow the use, due to sagging in the building caused by the compromising of a foundation sill on one wall.

This year, the town hired an engineer to take a look at the building, and it was recommended that the building not be used for public gatherings until the sill was shored or fixed.

Select Board member Woody Meiszner said during a meeting on July 1 that he felt that the report was on the cautious side, and that the fair could likely use the building again this year, operating under similar constraints against occupying the compromised wall that it had adhered to last year. His fellow board member Becky Doyle disagreed, saying that the town was putting itself at a liability if it went against the engineer’s recommendation.

“It doesn’t matter the rationale for this guy’s report, the report says they don’t recommend public occupancy,” said Doyle. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Meiszner said that he would be in favor of allowing the use of the building this year, and then putting a warrant article on the voting ballot in March, with the clear understanding that the building would not be used again until it was fixed. “That gives them fair warning,” said Meiszner.

Doyle noted that fair organizers had been aware that the building has been problematic for the last several years, so they have already been given fair warning. And there are other alternatives for holding the rummage sale, such as renting a large tent, she pointed out.

“Personally, I think it’s foolish to ignore the recommendation of a qualified person. To me that does not make sense,” said Doyle.

Bill Kivela, one of the fair organizers, whom the board also appointed to the Old Town Hall Committee following Tuesday’s meeting, asked if there were any plans for temporarily shoring up the building, or if that could be accomplished prior to the fair. Select Board Chair George Lawrence replied that the engineer had not included plans for shoring up the building in his report, and that the town did not have a large amount of funds available for the job. Kivela said it might be possible to get some of the labor done with volunteers.

“I want to see that Town Hall fixed because we want to continue using it. It’s very useful for us,” said Kivela. He additionally noted that if the town were to decide to put money into the building, it should consider attaching sewer and installing heating, so that the building could see more use.

The building was built in 1817 to house town meetings and also provide space for a private academy. The academy eventually moved to another building, and the town expanded the building in 1869, removing the cupola and the second floor, creating one open space.

Doyle said there have been attempts in the past to renovate the building, including a warrant request for $10,000 about five years ago for engineering plans to fix the basement, which was turned down at the polls, and an attempt to form a Heritage District Committee that would have been able to access grants for historical town buildings that was also turned down. Meiszner said that perhaps with the caveat that it will be unusable following this year, residents may take more notice of a warrant asking for funds to repair the building.

The board voted 2-1, with Doyle opposed, to allow the Children’s Fair rummage sale to be held in the building, with the condition that all activity remain at least four feet from the South wall of the building, and that it be made clear that the building would not be available for use again until it had either been shored or repaired.

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

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