St. J Board Offers Armory Lease To Preservation Society - The Caledonian-Record - St. Johnsbury, VT
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11/28/2012 8:39:00 AM
St. J Board Offers Armory Lease To Preservation Society
Taylor Reed
Staff Writer

ST. JOHNSBURY -- The St. Johnsbury History and Heritage Center is a step closer to establishing a new museum for local artifacts in the former armory on Main Street.

The St. Johnsbury Board of Selectmen on Monday approved leasing the dilipated and vacant armory to the organization for a year. The lease begins next month and includes an option to buy the facility for $1.

Whether or not the history and heritage center purchases the armory depends on an ongoing brownfields environmental study at the site, and the organization's ability to raise an estimated half-million dollars for renovations and remediation of contaminants including asbestos and lead.

St. Johnsbury has agreed to provide up to $20,000 for contaminant remediation if the history and heritage center purchases the armory. The money will come from taxpayers, said Selectman Bernie Timson.

"All of us [selectmen] decided that would be a good thing to do," he said.

Despite remaining hurdles, the history and heritage center says the lease is a huge step, and a long time coming. The group formed in 2010, received non-profit status that year, and began considering the armory as a potential site for a new museum.

"It has been an extremely slow process," said Peggy Pearl, the organization's unpaid director. "I'm hopeful that brownfields will go our way."




The history and heritage center will purchase the armory if the brownfields study produces favorable results, Pearl said. Optimistically, the organization could begin moving its 4,000-5,000 local artifacts into the armory next year, she said.

Bob Desrochers, a history and heritage center board member, said results from an ongoing phase two brownfields study will be available in May. The study will investigate problems identified by a phase-one study that uncovered issues like asbestos and lead.

"They essentially repeat the phase one, but they go into it in more depth," Desrochers said. "Everything will be a little more detailed, a little more extensive. There's a little bit more testing going on."

The phase-two study provides a basis for an action plan and cost estimates, Desrochers said. The state of Vermont is managing the studies.

If the phase-two study is favorable, Desrochers is confident the history and heritage center can raise an estimated $500,000 for armory repairs, renovations and remediation. Board members plan to seek grants and mount a capital campaign, he said.

Pearl said fundraising has been slow so far. The history and heritage center was not eligible for applicable grants until signing a lease, she said.

"It's been slow because we haven't had any final commitment on anything," Pearl said. "Now we're going to pick up the pace. We're going to do more fundraising, more grant writing. And we're just trying to get ourselves in a situation where we can move, literally."

Funding leads so far include the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Pearl said.

"And we'll be looking at a campaign of our own," she said. "Leave no door closed. I've got all my fingers and toes crossed."

Pearl also said the history and heritage center is rich with dedicated volunteers.

Jackie Dadourian and Jennifer Paine are two of them. The pair generally volunteer weekly at the organization's office in the former Summer Street School in St. Johnsbury, and love the job.

"It's distracting," Paine said. "We're just finding so many amazing things."

Dadourian agrees.

"You get caught up in it," she said.

The pair once found a letter from Albert Einstein, which deceased resident Graham Newell used as scrap paper.

St. Johnsbury Selectmen are hopeful the armory will be suitable for a museum.

"I think it's a longtime coming," Selectman Alan Ruggles said Tuesday. "Hopefully they can get the funding for it. It sounds like it's going to be a marvelous addition to Main Street."







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