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Guilford studies future of Broad Brook Grange


By Michael Fahar, Brattleboro Reformer:

GUILFORD >> At a recent Guilford Selectboard meeting, there was much debate about whether Broad Brook Grange should accept a donated generator and whether the building should be recognized as a backup emergency shelter.

Both questions, however, are part of a much larger, ongoing discussion about the historic structure's role in the town. Grange members and residents, in the form of a special task force, are considering ways to transform the building into a year-round community center.

Grange Master Hal Kuhns said the grange "is our past, and it is our future." He believes that future is not in doubt, but the question is how the organization and its headquarters — which dates to the late 1800s — will adapt.

"We've done some of the restoration work it needs, but it needs a lot more," Kuhns said.

The grange movement began in the late 19th century as an advocacy organization for farmers and rural America, and the Washington, D.C., -based National Grange continues that work today. But many local grange organizations ceased to exist as times changed and membership dwindled.

Broad Brook Grange has bucked that trend, with member Don McLean declaring that "we have over 70 members and are thus one of Vermont's largest granges." The grange building, which is privately owned by the organization, serves as a meeting and polling place as well as a venue for special events and private gatherings.

But many have begun to consider the future. Last year, after a community visioning process led by Vermont Council on Rural Development, grange redevelopment emerged as a top priority: It was described as "an irreplaceable community resource that can have a growing role as a community center and focal point for culture; youth activities and programs; entertainment; and civic life in the community."

The visioning report called for "an ambitious plan to improve and refurbish the building; improve the kitchen, bathrooms, plumbing and electric systems; improve parking; and advance handicap accessibility." The report also requests an evaluation of "appropriate ownership of the building."

A task force was formed, and it is led by Guilford resident and grange member Sara Coffey.

"We are using the ideas and priorities gathered through the Community Visit process as well as surveying and gathering ideas from the grange membership through a formal survey and dedicated forums," Coffey said, adding that "the priority that has emerged is ADA accessibility of the building — the upstairs and downstairs (including bathrooms)."

To determine the grange's structural needs, the grange — with assistance from a $500 matching grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont — has commissioned an architectural assessment of its headquarters.

"We hope it will show us the building is in not too terribly bad shape," Kuhns said. "We hope it will show what upgrades we need to make, and how we need to make them."

Guilford Center's recent state designation as a "village center" means grange upgrades could be eligible for tax credits, Coffey said.

Along with physical improvements, increased grange programming also is a priority. Kuhns says there is "potential for a lot more," and a community dance held at the grange in April may be one example.

Coffey said grange renovations could "foster a vibrant community space that can host art and civic events that are accessible to all."

While Selectboard members expect to have more discussions about whether the grange can serve as a backup emergency shelter, Kuhns and others say the building already has a lot going for it. Its central location is one big asset, as is the grange's already-strong role in the community.

"The grange, at its heart, is a community organization," Kuhns said. "As long as there's a community, there's a need for us."

Contact Mike Faher at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.