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Monkton Historical Society eyes old town hall for potential museum

THE MONKTON MUSEUM and Historical Society is studying whether it wants to buy the 1859 Monkton Town Hall on Ridge Road once town records and officials are moved into a new building, which is expected to be completed this spring.

MONKTON — In a few months Monkton will have a new town office and library building.
“We are still on budget and have a conditional occupancy in the beginning of May, so maybe (we’ll have) a ‘grand opening’ shortly thereafter,” Monkton selectboard chair Stephen Pilcher told the Independent in an email.
After that: the big move.
“There is a lot of work to be done to move records, books, etc. to the new offices and library,” Pilcher said.
The $1.7 million building will feature nearly 5,300 square feet of space. It will have more than 1,100 square feet for town offices, which is twice the space available in the current town hall. Room also will be dedicated to the town library (1,193 square feet), a community room for around 50 people and two smaller meeting rooms, as well as restrooms and storage space.
Once that is complete, the town is hoping to sell the old town hall on Monkton Ridge Road.
And it may have a prospective buyer: The Monkton Museum and Historical Society, or MMHS.
“We think that the sale of the 1859 Town Hall provides the perfect opportunity for the Monkton community to have its own museum to exhibit its history for now and generations that follow,” wrote members of the MMHS study group in the introduction to an online survey they’ve created to gauge community interest.
“Our goal is to preserve our history in a way that will educate and fascinate residents and visitors, both young and old.”
The current town hall was a gift to the town, explained MMHS member Gill Coates.
Monkton’s first town hall was built in Monkton Boro, but by 1858 it was too small and needed renovations, Coates said. In response, a group of Monkton Ridge residents offered to pay for a new town hall — if it was built in Monkton Ridge.
The building was added to the National Historic Register in the 1970s, one of only two buildings in the town to have that designation. The town has not put it up for sale yet, but it has been appraised at $51,300.
Acquiring it will be no simple task for the MMHS. The organization doesn’t have that kind of cash lying around, and the town would not be able to finance the museum through taxes.
There are grants available for renovating historic buildings, but little in the way of assistance for organizations that want to purchase them, Coates said.
So if it decides to go forward, the MMHS would need to do a lot of fundraising.
As of last week’s study group meeting, 55 people had taken the MMHS survey, which can be found online at tinyurl.com/ypacmzys. Monkton residents are encouraged to take the survey and make their opinions known.
Responses have been generally favorable, Coates said.
“We’ve had a commitment from one community member to help purchase the building,” Coates said.
Beyond that, if the MMHS begins fundraising, it would likely keep a running tally of who donates what, so that, in the event the fundraising falls short, the historical society can return donations.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the building’s water and sewer connections are tied up with the current Russell Memorial Library building across the street. The two buildings are billed together for services.
Establishing independent water and sewer for the old Town Hall would be challenging: there’s not really anywhere on the tiny property to dig a well or a septic system.
“We don’t want to buy both buildings,” Coates said.
Despite the various hurdles, Coates is learning toward “going for it,” he said. But it’s not going to happen immediately.
“Hopefully someone with deep pockets won’t come along, buy the building, and move it somewhere else.”

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