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Wallingford eyes future of historic buildings


By Susan Smallheer, as seen in the Rutland Herald:

WALLINGFORD — There may not be a town green, but the old Odd Fellows building could be the next best thing, several residents said Thursday during the Wallingford Community Visit organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

The old, dilapidated three-story building at the intersection of Route 7 and School Street is on the verge of being sold, several residents said. Residents expressed hope that the building could have some community-oriented use, such as a coffee shop or gathering place. The building currently houses Sal’s South restaurant and Hands for Hope thrift store, which is moving.

Another building, not historic, which houses the town’s post office and used to house a country store, was also a focus of the discussion.

The Wallingford Community Visit is the latest of about 60 such visits the council has organized in towns all over the state. The Select Board had invited the council to work its magic with Wallingford.

Townwide discussions were held on such topics as restoring historic buildings, Wallingford’s identity, economic development, Main Street, recreation and natural resources, and community events and celebrations. The event was wrapped around a free community supper at the Wallingford Elementary School.

Time and again, residents said they really wanted a community gathering place in town where people could meet, sit down, talk and drink coffee.

You can get coffee at Cumberland Farms, but you can’t sit down, residents said.

The lack of a grocery store was also a need many people cited.

High-level state and federal officials attended, and while they remained largely silent during the community discussions, they gave instant feedback at the end of each session.

The consensus was Wallingford had a lot going for it with its pretty Main Street, loads of historic buildings and strong sense of community, but it could do a better job marketing its attributes to both residents and outsiders.

Resident Debbie Scranton suggested the town create a dog park – not so much for dogs but for creating a place where townspeople could meet, talk and enjoy their dogs.

“A dog park is a wonderful gathering place for people,” she said, saying it would help build a sense of community.

“I love the idea of a dog park,” said Marc Pramuk, chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission.

Paul Costello, executive director of the council, lead the afternoon’s discussion on restoring historic buildings, and preserving many of the town’s iconic buildings that could be on the verge of falling into serious disrepair.

The four corners, where the Odd Fellows building sits, is key to the town’s image, many people said.

Local architect Ralph Nimtz said finding a use for the top two floors of the Odd Fellows building posed some real challenges.

“I’ve looked at it for housing,” he said. “I think it’s going fast,” he said of its condition.

“That building is a challenge,” said Costello, pointing out its numerous broken windows in the upper floors.

Other people mentioned converting the top floors into housing for skiers from Okemo Mountain Resort, or hikers on the Long Trail or Appalachian Trail, who often walk into town to buy food and pick up mail at the post office, residents said.

Several people, including many of the state officials, said they had no idea that hikers on both the major trails came so close to the town’s center.

Two freshman students at Mill River Union High School, Amelia Jones and Reese Eldert-Moore, presented suggestions to the discussion on Wallingford’s identity, and won a round of applause.

Jones reeled off a long list of detailed suggestions, including a bakery and a “pancake breakfast with Santa.”

“The youth of this town knows what this town needs,” said Kevin Wiberg of the Vermont Community Foundation, and a member of the council’s visiting team.

The next step in the council community visit process will be held May 23 at 6:30 p.m., with the location to be announced, said Jenna Koloski, the council’s community and policy manager.