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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: A silent majority fighting town hall? Time will tell

  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>

    Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall
    February 9, 2006
    (Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)

  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>

    Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall
    February 9, 2006
    (Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)

  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>

    Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall
    February 9, 2006
    (Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)

  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>

    Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall
    February 9, 2006
    (Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)

  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>
  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>
  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>
  • Bradford is once again voting on improving its Town Hall<br/>February 9, 2006<br/>(Concord Monitor photo/Thomas Whisenand)<br/>

It’s the hot topic around town, the one about the old town hall.

Some in Bradford think restoring the proud building, combining local government with arts and entertainment, is the way to go.

Others think the two institutions should be housed separately, while still others, who might end up being the silent majority because of their reluctance to talk openly, want the place torn down.

Welcome to town meeting season, which often hits like a nor’easter, with its high winds and icy conditions.

The Bradford version is scheduled for March 13. Article Four on the warrant, seeking a $1.8 million bond, calls for a two-third ballot vote to pass. Apparently, if you think this should pass, you’ll shout from the rooftops, because that’s what happened when residents were contacted for this column.

They want the town hall, closed since November of 2011 because of mold, poor plumbing, lack of handicap accessibility and good old-fashioned apathy, renovated to its glory days through the 20th century.

The building, in fact, is celebrating its 150th birthday this year (The original structure was built in 1797, before the growing railroad business forced its relocation).

People want the town offices, now on the ground floor of the community center, back at 72 West Main St. They want elevators and other amenities to bring the place up to date. They want sprinkler systems to satisfy the fire code.

And, in the part of this article that will no doubt receive the most attention at town meeting, they want the theater and dance floor on the third floor refurbished, bringing an era of arts and entertainment back to the center of town.

“I think Bradford is typical of a lot of towns in New Hampshire that are facing difficulties in hanging on to their heritage and their historical integrity,” said 71-year-old resident David Halsted, who traveled the world as a member of the foreign service. “Here we have an old building that is more than just a town hall because it was home to town offices, but it also has a magnificent stage.”

Once, the upstairs theater and dance floor featured piano music, Christmas shows, movies and young people meeting and later getting married. You can still see the small projector room, with its rectangular slot in the wall where the beam of light from silent movies shot through cigar smoke to the screen below.

The pro-theater people are organizing. They’ve been going door to door, handing out fliers, spreading the word about what once was, about what could be again.

“We’re answering questions about the town hall restoration and how it will benefit them and what the cost will be,” said Halsted’s wife, Michele Halsted. “We’re helping them understand how important our restored cultural center and center of civic functions for our community is. I must say that in my corner of Bradford, the rural-most corner, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Still, while those in favor, the vocal ones, have spread a message of sophistication and rebirth, the Halsteds both conceded that the vote will be close. “Every vote is crucial,” Michele said.

Funny thing is, while walking around the center of town yesterday, near the laundromat and post office, etc., people who thought this was a bad idea, the ones who say the building should be torn down, who say a new, simple structure would save money, who say the town offices are fine where they are, who say the novelty of a theater and dance hall will fade, wouldn’t reveal their names for print.

Even 80-year-old Everett Kittredge, a retired engineer and lifelong resident, was hesitant to go on the record when first contacted, despite the fact that he plans on voting for the measure. He has mixed feeling about the whole deal.

“It’s kind of sensitive if people have to live in the town,” Kittredge said. “I doubt it’s going to pass, because people don’t want to pay that kind of money to restore an old building for a function that is 50 percent needed, the space for the town offices. The word ‘frivolous’ comes to mind. Maybe that’s not the perfect word, but the upstairs is not a necessary part of town government.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Rich, a resident for 36 years, says the town offices should be split from the town hall, relocated to Bradford Corners. A separate article, not recommended by the selectmen or the budget committees, calls for a majority vote on this matter.

“I would love to see the town hall go back to what it originally was, a meeting house where we could have plays,” Rich said. “Please quote me that I am not against the town hall, that I’m all for historic buildings.”

Such is the nature of Article Four. People walk on eggshells when discussing it.

Restore past glory?

Restore it, but just the top floor?

Call the whole thing off and start over?

Money has been spent in recent years to study the feasibility of total restoration, spent to, finally, figure out what to do.

“This is probably the last gasp we’re ever going to have for it,” Kittredge said. “If we don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen, and then who knows what’s going to happen to it in the future?”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Legacy Comments1

$1.8 Million $$$$$$$$$$ - nuf said - the building and nature did not cause the mold - humans did - they killed a building

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