Whately looks to revitalize historic center

  • Whately Historical Society at the Center School in Whately. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Remodeling the Whately Town Hall for community events is part of a plan to revitalize the historic town center district. RECORDER STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

  • A historic house in Whately's center district. —Andy Castillo

  • A book sale in front of the S. White Dickinson Library in Whately in the proposed historic center district. RECORDER STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/9/2016 11:50:40 PM
Modified: 10/9/2016 11:50:28 PM

WHATELY — Town officials are drafting preliminary plans to revamp and preserve the historic center district, making it more viable for local public use, and they’re looking for public input.

“This project is related modestly to the ongoing work to consider how to rehabilitate and make useful the town hall,” said Historical Commission Member Donna Wiley about an ongoing center district revitalization project.

She said the revitalization initiative includes three distinct projects wrapped up into one center district revitalization effort.

The first is the Town Hall, a building that hasn’t had a defined purpose since the town offices moved to Sandy Lane. After that is a landscaping and accessibility initiative — mostly related to traffic control, sidewalk restoration and tree maintenance — put forward by the Historical Commission.

Water systems merger

Also included in the project is a proposed merging of the Whately Water District, located in the town center, with the Water Department. In order to facilitate the merger, the Water Department would have to install new piping. Whately Water District Superintendent Nicholas Jones said the merger is necessary at least in part because the district’s wells are drying up.

While separate, Wiley said it would make sense to work on all three projects at the same time for efficiency, to minimize construction time and because the landscaping would tie everything together. She added that the end result aims to keep the town small but make it more accessible.

As to the landscaping project, Wiley said it has “maybe two priorities. One is to make the center of town more functional for both residents and visitors by having sidewalks that are manageable, meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements, and go from point ‘a’ to point ‘b.’ The second is to be respectful of history, and that doesn’t mean to put the town in a bell jar.”

Town Hall revitalization

According to Selectman Fred Orloski, restoring the town hall is a good way to preserve the town’s history. He said remodeling includes turning the second floor into a community event space.

To that end, an architect has been contacted who would design plans for an elevator and handicapped accessible bathrooms.

Town Administrator Brian Domina said there aren’t any more town employees in the building and, aside from a few small community groups that occasionally meet, it has remained unused since the town offices moved to Sandy Lane a few years ago.

The idea behind remodeling is to make the building useful, Orloski continued, and therefore an asset to the community so it doesn’t fall into disrepair in the absence of a specific purpose.

An aspect of the Town Hall restoration related to the broader landscaping project is parking.

If the Town Hall becomes a space for community events, the selectman continued, its current post office-shared parking lot might not be big enough.

Orloski said there have also been discussions about moving the Historical Commission from its current meeting location in the Center School to the first floor of the Town Hall — allowing the Center School to be either sold or repurposed.

Landscape revitalization

To achieve uniformity and address prevailing preservation needs, the Selectboard appointed a committee to investigate ways to revitalize the center district.

“We were talking about the fact that the historic district is a mix between government buildings and residential,” Wiley said about a 2014 discussion during a Historical Commission meeting. During the meeting, she said, members decided “it would be useful to have a comprehensive look for the historic district.”

Along with the committee, the town hired the Conway School of Landscape Design to conduct a study earlier this year.

The study investigated the center district’s topography, parking needs, sidewalks and environmental conservation concerns. The study also looked at preservation needs and what type of buildings are in the area.

In the end, the Conway School presented a list of needs and an in-depth plan that, among other things, provides solutions to flooding and ice problems created by the regional watershed.

“Now the real work has to take place,” Wiley continued, explaining that the next step is for the town to meet together at a future information meeting — tentatively scheduled to be held after a special town meeting in November — to decide which parts of the plan to endorse and move forward on.

“All of this will fit together,” Wiley said, adding that, based on the Conway School’s preliminary landscaping sketches, “it is really nice.”

Orloski said the Select Board wants all three projects to be brought before the town — for informational purposes and public discussion — after November’s town meeting.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo




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