Nonprofit seeks schoolhouse restoration12/4/08

St. George structure would be relocated

Dec. 4, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

St. George has long debated what to do with its historic but slowly decaying one-room schoolhouse. A new nonprofit will now lead the way.

 


    Observer file photo by Greg Elias
Dilapidated but still intact, St. George’s 156-year-old, one-room schoolhouse may be restored and moved to a new location just north of its current site on Vermont 2A.

The St. George Historic & Conservation Trust hopes to restore and move the schoolhouse a short distance south to a site next to the town offices on Vermont 2A.

The estimated $250,000 project will be a major topic on the Town Meeting Day agenda in March. Residents will be asked to sell the schoolhouse to the nonprofit and make a modest contribution to help fund the restoration and relocation.

As Chittenden County’s smallest town, St. George did not have the means to pay for the restoration, said Selectboard Chairman Tom Carlson. Forming a nonprofit will provide a way to raise most of the money through private donations and grants.

The board agreed to back the nonprofit’s efforts during a Nov. 20 meeting.

“The Selectboard said it would support them,” Carlson said, “while at the same being clear that this was not a mission the town could take on right now.”

The schoolhouse, built in 1852, currently sits in a small clearing on the east side of Vermont 2A. It served as a school until the mid-1960s, and was then a venue for meeting space for community gatherings. But since the 1980s, the building has sat vacant and fallen into disrepair.

The schoolhouse’s red and white paint is peeling and its concrete steps are cracked. The maple floor has buckled. And the overgrown lot includes a large tree with overhanging branches that threaten the roof.

A May report by a Shoreham-based consultant, Jeremiah Beach Parker Restoration & Construction Management Corp., outlined what would be needed to shore up and relocate the building.

Work to prepare the new site and a ground-up building restoration would cost $199,258, the report estimated. The cost of moving the structure is pegged at $47,000.

The current location on a small, overgrown lot is seen as impractical because there is not enough space for parking or a septic system.

The estimated total cost includes excavation work and a new basement for the building as well as a 30-space parking lot at the new site. It does not include the cost of hooking up water, sewer and electrical service.

St. George residents have long considered fixing what is sometimes called the Little Red Schoolhouse. The expense of repairs and other issues have left the building in limbo for decades.

In recent months, a group of residents talked about forming a nonprofit that would raise funds and oversee renovation and relocation of the schoolhouse. The Historic & Conservation Trust recently filed for nonprofit designation with the state and the Internal Revenue Service.

“We didn’t want another 20 to 30 years to go by with people figuring out what to do,” said Charles Scott, treasurer for the group.

The hope is that the new nonprofit can break the deadlock by raising money and having a single-minded focus on the project. But Scott acknowledged that it remains to be seen if a majority of residents will support the idea.

“For years, the building has been left to decay,” he said. “Some have said let it fall down. Others have said let’s tear it down. And some others have said let’s preserve it.”

On Town Meeting Day, residents will be asked to sell the schoolhouse to the nonprofit for $1. Voters will also be asked to sell or lease the current schoolhouse site for the same amount and sell or lease land at St. George Town Center. Finally, voters will be asked to approve a $10,000 contribution to the restoration effort.

The Historic & Conservation Trust also has a goal of restoring about a half-dozen historic structures scattered around the town, Scott said. But its first order of business is the schoolhouse, especially the removal of a tree that Scott said the group is “terrified” will crash through the roof during a winter storm.

Once restored, he said the schoolhouse would likely be used for educational purposes. It could house an after-school program or other town-run educational efforts.

Scott, who has extensive nonprofit experience as a former executive with the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, said schoolhouse restoration could also become a rallying point for the roughly 850 residents in St. George.

“Often, this kind of thing brings a community together,” he said. “We’re already seeing people from every kind of economic background involved with this.”