Going to work  for GAR’s future

The process was convoluted, but voters spoke clearly Wednesday at Peterborough’s open session of Town Meeting. They want the town to sell the GAR Hall on Grove Street.

Everyone agreed that the hall, built to house the Peterborough Academy in 1836, is both historic and beautiful. They want the facade preserved. They want the Civil War statue that’s out front to be saved, relocated to Putnam Park or another appropriate site if needed. But they don’t want the town to have to continue to maintain the building, which has been sitting vacant in recent years, ever since the Creating Positive Change coalition stopped running an after-school youth program there.

Three choices for dealing with the hall were on the warrant, and yes, the Select Board did take advantage of Roberts’ Rules to move the option they preferred — putting the building on the market and selling it for the best possible price — to be discussed first. The majority of voters approved the Select Board’s plan to switch the order , but opponents of the sale had plenty of opportunity to express their opinions. Led by members of the Heritage Commission, they argued passionately for their recommendation — to raise $300,000 so the building could be renovated and then either used by the town or rented.

Putting that much money into the historic building was not recommended by the Select Board or the Budget Committee, and it was clearly not a priority for voters. The recommendation to put the building up for sale passed easily, so now it’s going on the market.

But not without conditions. When the Select Board tried to sell the building two years ago, the best offer they got was for $100 from a private buyer who planned to make significant investments and convert it into a residence. That bid eventually got the attention of the Attorney General’s Office, which ruled that because the building had been given to the town to use as a park and memorial building, the town would have to get market value if the building were to be sold. So now the asking price needs to be $172,000, based on the appraisal the Select Board has received.

Until someone comes up with that amount (which seems unlikely to happen soon, given that the town got only the one offer for $100 the first time they sought bids on the building), the hall must remain on the market. That gives the Heritage Commission and others who believe there are better ways to use the building a great opportunity. They can spread the word, talk to nonprofit organizations that might be interested, try to find some group that can use the building and is willing to commit to the cost to improve it for whatever use they have in mind. With a tangible plan, they might not have trouble finding volunteers to help restore the interior. Heritage Commission Chair Tyler Ward, who’s a carpenter, publicly committed to putting in his own sweat equity at the Town Meeting, and there are no doubt others willing to help.

If they can come up with a reasonable plan for what they want to do with the building, the Select Board would likely look favorably on an offer to buy the GAR Hall at a reasonable price. The Heritage Commission probably has nearly a year to find an alternative plan, a buyer and use for the building it can support. Now’s the time to get started.

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