Starksboro Meeting House gets upgrades
It’s a public building. It’s dressed up as a church, but it’s not a church.
— Keegan Tierney
STARKSBORO — After decades of infrequent use, the 180-year-old Starksboro Village Meeting House is re-emerging as a central community space.
All it needs now is for people to come and make use of it.
“Our big goal is to get more people involved in the building,” Meeting House trustee Keegan Tierney said in a recent interview.
There may be some confusion about just what the building is, and for whom it’s being renovated, he acknowledged.
“It’s a public building,” he said. “It’s dressed up as a church, but it’s not a church. I think some folks might be intimidated by the churchiness of it.”
Indeed, the ground level remains structured like a church. A modest foyer gives way to a high-ceilinged sanctuary with stained-glass windows, a raised platform chancel, rows upon rows of wooden pews, and a small balcony.
But the building hasn’t hosted a regular congregation for a century.
Nor is the Meeting House a town building, though Tierney can’t blame people for wondering.
“Myself, as a member of the general public, you don’t go looking in buildings that you think you don’t belong in,” he said. “But the message here is that everybody belongs here.”
FOR THE COMMUNITY
The mission of the Starksboro Village Meeting House board of trustees is simple: to use and foster use of the building by Starksboro residents and other interested people and groups, and to maintain the building while preserving its historic character.
Every year they host an autumn ham supper and a nondenominational Christmas service. Last March volunteers reconfigured the space to host vendors, artisans and town committees as part of the annual Sugar on Snow Party.
“Those are kind of our three running events every year,” Tierney said.
But he and other board members have been brainstorming ideas for more regular — and frequent use.
“I can see this space being used for any number of things,” he said. “A music venue would be one. A speaker venue would be another. We’ve had folks pitch ideas.”
Fellow board member Emily Gibbs is working to put together an America’s Got Talent-style event, he said. Others have suggested a once-a-month community jam session for young musicians — “with coffee and baked goods to make it a kind of social thing.”
The existing setup, along with the spectacular glow provided by rows of colorful stained-glass windows, makes the space ideal for weddings.
Meanwhile, downstairs, a mini community center is already thriving.
The five-star Starksboro Cooperative Preschool, which has been in near-continuous use since the 1970s, hosts up to 15 children a day (ages 4 to 5 with the occasional 3-year-old), and 24 throughout the week.
But they would like to do more, said Susan Paré, the preschool’s director.
“We’ve conducted community surveys, so we know the need is there,” she said. “And there is an infant/toddler waiting list in Addison County right now because of a child care shortage.”
The Cooperative Preschool would need to make a few changes before it could begin crossing names off that list.
In order to host children as young as 2 the center would need to add a second bathroom and partition off an additional room.
With those and a few other changes, the school might someday be able to expand to 20 children per day, Paré said, maybe even 25.
The preschool is also looking at ways to move toward year-round scheduling.
Over the past year, thanks to generous support from the town of Starksboro, the state of Vermont and the Walter Cerf Charitable Trust — plus nearly 500 hours of volunteer work from local supporters, United Way volunteers and Middlebury College students — the Meeting House has begun to recover from some of the ravages of time.
This past summer, volunteers stripped great brittle sheets of “hideous awful 1960s wallpaper” from the sanctuary and replaced them with fresh coats of paint, Tierney said. They also replaced the balcony ceiling and re-homed the three-dozen chairs and random unfixed church pews that had been stored up there.
While they worked, hired professionals replaced half the roof, shored up structural weaknesses and painted the exterior.
But such repairs and maintenance don’t come cheap. The roofing cost $20,000 and the exterior paint cost $28,000.
“We did some back-of-the-napkin calculations,” Tierney said. “We need to be socking away anywhere between $5,000 and $8,000 a year for long-term maintenance.”
So fundraising is ongoing.
This spring and summer, Meeting House trustees will turn their attention to the stained-glass windows, which need to be repainted and reglazed. They’re also hoping to install National Historic Register–compliant storm windows, to protect the windows from the elements.
And they’re looking into the possibility of making some of the church pews “mobile,” Tierney said, which would allow for more space-reconfiguration possibilities.
SUGAR ON SNOW
Before then, however, they had a huge soiree to co-host.
The annual Sugar on Snow Party was scheduled for Saturday, March 21, with various events occurring throughout the day.
“This event has roots in the earliest days of the Meeting House being operated by a board of trustees in the late 1950s,” explained trustee and Bristol resident Kevin Hanson a few weeks agao. “It has been held pretty much continuously ever since — at the Meeting House, the Town Hall/Library or the Baptist Church in the Vermont spring tradition.”
Unfortunately, Saturday’s Sugar on Snow party has been canceled. Keegan Tierney explained that, like so many other events, this public party was canceled because of the coronavirus threat.
“We hope to put something together in the summer as this global crisis passes,” Tierney told the Independent.
For more information about the Starksboro Village Meeting House, visit starksboromeetinghouse.org.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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