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Shoreham looks to revive historic village ediface

SHOREHAM — The stately, Queen Anne-style brick building on Shoreham’s School Street across from the town green has served many constituencies since being erected by celebrated architect Clinton Smith in 1885. It was first built as a Universalist Church, then became home to the Simonds Lodge of the Masons, before being purchased by the Vermont Conservatory of Music in 2005.
Recently acquired by the town of Shoreham, the building is now being viewed as a community asset that could eventually host some basic public and private functions.
“We would like to see it used, but we are not yet sure what it should be used for,” explained Shoreham Selectwoman Karen Shackett, whose responsibilities include oversight of the community’s buildings and grounds.
It was in 2013 that Charles Callahan of Orwell and other representatives of the Conservatory of Music approached the Shoreham selectboard offering to donate the building, which no longer fit into the organization’s plans. The conservatory had made some basic improvements to the structure that allowed it to host occasional concerts, but it was clear that more upgrades would be necessary for it to accommodate a more intensive public use. Among the building’s most pressing needs: larger restroom facilities and better access for people with disabilities, Shackett noted.
The town of Shoreham owns the land surrounding the structure, which local officials had at one point considered as a new location for the municipal offices. Ultimately, the town expanded its offices on the Shoreham Commons.
The Shoreham selectboard gratefully accepted the conservatory’s donation, and the property officially changed hands this past December. The building possesses a combined total of around 2,000 square feet on three floors, including a meeting hall, a basement with kitchen, a furnace room and a tiny restroom. Shackett said the town has made some small improvements to the building since taking it over, including installation of a chimney liner and a chandelier to improve interior lighting.
But supporters know that a nickel and dime approach won’t lead to the upgrades needed to make the former Masonic Hall a gathering spot for local groups and perhaps wedding receptions. Shoreham confronted a similar project seven years ago, when the 200-year-old Newton Academy — also on School Street — was being renovated for use as a community center and potential site for town offices. But lightening strikes ignited an April 7, 2010, fire that destroyed the academy.
The community has hired an architect to go through the former Masonic Hall, which was designed by the architect who designed Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater, to determine what kind of work will be needed to provide broader access to the public. Shackett believes the structure “is in good shape for the kind of building it is,” with a good furnace. The town will be looking for new homes for an organ and piano that remain inside the building. Once a list of needed repairs is generated by an architect, the community will determine how to finance them. Shackett said some local residents are already prepared to do some fundraising.
“It still needs a lot of work,” Shackett said.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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