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Group mulls Colrain’s future

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Former Green Emporiuim in Colrain Center

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Former Green Emporiuim in Colrain Center

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Colrain Meeting House in Colrain Center

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Colrain Meeting House in Colrain Center

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Former Green Emporiuim in Colrain Center
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Colrain Meeting House in Colrain Center

COLRAIN — Over the past 25 years, the town center has lost some of its iconic buildings: the old Colrain Inn and the Kendell Mill, both destroyed by fire; privately owned condemned buildings that ultimately were taken down by the town after years of neglect; and now the Civil War Veterans Memorial Hall, which was demolished last month. Could the Brick Meeting House be next?

“Our town is completely disappearing before our eyes,” Sarah McKusick told selectmen Monday night. “There’s no finger-pointing here,” she continued. “I think some of these buildings lived their natural life spans ... We have to make this town appealing to live in again. And the town center isn’t attracting people.”

McKusick was accompanied by about a half-dozen other residents to discuss how to regenerate the once-bustling town center and to resuscitate buildings like the Brick Meeting House, which is again up for sale.

“I hate to see these buildings falling apart,” said McKusick. “How can we get something happening to attract new businesses that might actually use the Blue Block or the Brick Meeting House?” She pointed out that when Michael Collins and Tony Palumbo were operating The Green Emporium restaurant, the town center was drawing more people and prospects for revitalization seemed likely.

At that time, the nonprofit trust that owns the Brick Meeting House was also seeking a federal grant to make the first floor of the old church building handicapped-accessible, for possible use as a senior center.

But the grant was denied, and after the Green Emporium closed, there hasn’t been much beyond the library and post office to bring people into the town center.

McKusick said the group wanted to know what the town wants and would support in the way of revitalizing the town center.

Bradley Brigham, one of four partners who formed a nonprofit trust to purchase the Brick Meeting House in 1992, said people miss having a gathering place, like the Green Emporium, where they can go for coffee and to socialize. He suggested a co-operative, such as the grocery store/cafe formed by Cummington residents, might be a good move for downtown Colrain.

Brigham also explained that the Brick Meeting House has been put up for sale, because after 20 years, and failure to get the $940,000 needed bring the building up to code for public buildings, one partner has died and the others are getting older and would like to put the building in other hands.

Selectmen’s Chairwoman Eileen Sauvageau said the group has come to selectmen at a good time, because several projects are under way to revitalize the town center. She said town officials have been talking with the Barnhardt Manufacturing Co., a cotton fiber processing plant, about extending its sewer lines into the town center. Lack of a public sewer is one issue that has hindered commercial development. A $35,000 village center sewer/septic study, funded in part with a $30,000 federal grant, is now under way, with a draft report expected in late November.

Recently, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments completed an evaluation of pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic patterns and access. Also, the town has been approved for a $1.5 million Transportation Improvement grant for intersection improvements and sidewalks in the intersection of Greenfield Road and Route 112. The town is paying for the engineering, out of its Chapter 90 highway funds, and the work is to be done in 2018 or 2019. Sauvageau said, if sewer line can be extended, the hope is to do both projects then.

In addition, the Jacksonville Road bridge, near the Colrain Central School, is to be replaced, beginning in 2015. The new bridge is to have sidewalks.

The town is also applying for a Community Development Block Grant to reconstruct River Street. This will include full depth reconstruction of the road, new sidewalks, replaced water lines and hydrants. New sewer lines will be installed.

Recent improvements already made have included power-washing and repainting the Town Office, through the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Community Service Program, and re-roofing the Town Office, with volunteer help.

With assistance from FRCOG, the town is developing a “Colrain Village Center Master Plan,” and a draft will be presented at a December meeting.

Selectman Mark Thibodeau said he’s been working on revitalizing the village center ever since he became a selectman, and remarked that the current projects may take three to four years to come to fruition. He said some residents who don’t live near the village center “don’t want their tax dollars invested in the town center.”

Phillips Sherburne, a former town selectman and one of the partners in the Brick Meeting House venture, said the town used to budget maintenance funding for the now-demolished Memorial Hall, but the board discontinued that several years before the building became too costly to restore.

“It seems like the town could interact with this building,” he said. Sherburne said, although the Brick Meeting House isn’t up to code, it is structurally sound, has parking and is an iconic, landmark building.

“What’s expensive is bringing it up to modern codes,” said Brigham.

“I have no intention of suggesting the Brick Meeting House be torn down,” said Sauvageau.

Joan McQuade of the Historical Commission said there is talk of creating a park where the old Memorial Hall stood, and placing the town’s war memorials there.

Sherburne said Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Rockwell is willing to design the landscape, which might include a seating area overlooking the river and a plaque to commemorate the former Memorial Hall.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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