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Hancock receives $50,000 to restore schoolhouse for town offices

HANCOCK — On Monday, June 23, United States Department of Agriculture officials announced that more than $430,000 in USDA Rural Development Community Facility grants, loans and loan guarantees will be disbursed among eight organizations for the purchase, improvement and protection of community assets.
In Addison County, the town of Hancock received a $50,000 USDA grant toward the renovation of the 1850 schoolhouse, thanks in large part to the efforts of Hancock selectboard member Shelley Twitchell and Town Clerk Sarah Deering, who wrote the grant.
The two-room schoolhouse, which is owned by the town and has been vacant since it closed about eight years ago, will be renovated to house the town offices and the library.
In a joint statement last Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch praised these USDA grants and the recipients noting the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program “has a proven track record of making quality investments in the infrastructure of the community.”
The idea for the Hancock schoolhouse project arose two years ago during conversation at town meeting about what to do with the empty building, said Twitchell. Hancock held subsequent meetings to discuss options, and Twitchell said the proposal to renovate the building was met with “overwhelming support.”
The $50,000 will be put toward reinforcements underneath the building that are necessary to support the library shelves, as well as the addition of a vault on the west side of the building.
“We did not want to mess with the integrity of the building,” Twitchell added, which is why most of both the interior and exterior will remain unchanged, right down to the light fixtures.
Twitchell said the town is hoping to have the work done by fall, although work has yet to begin as the project awaits a change of use permit. The $50,000 will allow for a considerable amount of the necessary improvements, said Twitchell, although further down the road, ADA compliance laws and other improvements could push the total cost closer to $100,000.
Deering said that the town is in the process of investigating other grants to cover these possible expenses, although she hopes that Hancock can do a little bit of fundraising too, perhaps at their annual Oktoberfest celebration.
The neighboring town of Granville also worked to revitalize an old schoolhouse a few years ago, although Deering said that the projects are notably different. The Hancock schoolhouse will actually house town offices and the library, whereas the Granville schoolhouse was intended for more variable uses. Furthermore, the Hancock schoolhouse restoration is part of a continued effort to revitalize the center of Hancock and bring all of the municipal resources closer together on Route 100.
“You’re always going to get tension when it comes to change,” said Deering, however she said that community members are largely excited for the “revitalization of the town’s center.”
Around the state, recipients of USDA grants include organizations ranging from libraries to volunteer fire departments, all with the goal of investing in local facilities or equipment to improve the quality of life for Vermonters.
“The grant writing process was fast and furious,” Twitchell said with a laugh, adding that the USDA “really held my hand” through the process.
“I’m just really excited for the town to utilize the building,” added Twitchell, echoing the sentiment that she believes is felt throughout the Hancock community.

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