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May 19. 2013 7:06PM

Peterborough voters give OK to sell historic building

PETERBOROUGH - Voters told town officials to go ahead and sell the historic Grand Army of the Republic Hall at town meeting Wednesday night.

The mothballed hall, owned by the town, is in need of a major renovation.

The article passed overwhelmingly with a show of hands, but the article was opposed by a small group of residents, including members of the Heritage Commission.

"I think this is a moment where as a community we should consider the importance of this hall," said Tyler Ward, a Heritage Commission member.

"This is Peterborough's first academy. It's where it all started."

Select Board members, though, said the town has no use for the hall and it is in need of $300,000 worth of renovations.

Select Board chairwoman Barbara Miller said soliciting private donations would be in conflict with the town's current efforts to renovate the old National Guard armory into a town community center without using property tax dollars as well as the library trustees' upcoming plans to modernize the library building.

"We don't need another baby to feed," Miller said.

She added as long as the building sits empty, the town has to pay to maintain it and it stays off the tax rolls.

"We didn't want the property to be a tax burden," she said.

The board is committed to preserving the historic exterior of the building through deed restrictions, she said.

Town Administrator Pam Brenner said the Civil War monument and Civil War cannons on the property would likely be moved to another location if the property becomes privately owned.

Resident Jim Grant said the Civil War monument was originally located in Putnam Park and only moved to the Grand Army of the Republic Hall property after it became a hall for Civil War veterans.

The building was built in 1834 and was the town's first high school.

The town had been granted the building in 1899 for use as a Civil War veteran's hall on the condition it be held forever by the town as a memorial and park.

The building was used by the American Legion for many years, then it was used by a non-profit as a teen center.

The town mothballed the building several years ago and attempted to sell it last year. The proposed buyers bid $100 and agreed to maintain the building and property's historical integrity, however, the state's Charitable Trust Division opposed the sale.

On Wednesday, voters were presented with three options, all of which would satisfy the Charitable Trust Division, Miller said.

After voting to sell the building, articles to approve a $300,000 bond for renovations and the third warrant article pertaining to the hall, which asked voters to approve a measure that would appease the restrictive deed by placing $172,000 - the appraised value of the building - into the town's parks fund, were passed over by voters.

After the meeting, Miller said the Charitable Trust Division would allow the town to sell the building for less than $172,000, its estimated value, after it is on the open market for a year.

Miller said it is not likely someone would pay that amount on a building in need of $300,000 in repairs.

mpierce@newstote.com


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