The days of the venerable grange building along Main Streeet (Route 133) in Bridgewater may be numbered.

A structural engineer's report ordered recently by the town's Board of Selectmen indicated the circa 1850s building has serious structural problems.

The second floor has been closed to use for some time.

"The foundation is just piled up rocks and they have sunk into the mud under the building," said First Selectman Curtis Read. "The supports for the floor have collapsed and posts inside the building that hold up the second floor are supported by nothing. The piers under the first floor are rotted."

In addition, the northwest wall of the building is "bowing out" and the stud walls have no support.

The selectmen have made the decision the building must be closed.

"We want to support the grange," Read said. "We love the grange in this town. Our thought is to raze the present building and rebuild an identical (look) building on the site."

A final, signed report from the structural engineer is expected soon. At that point, the review would be completed and final decisions reached.

The town has applied for a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant from the state. The town has asked for $500,000 with hopes to supplement the grant with $250,000 of town money.

"We would retrieve what we could from the original wood. That could be used for trim in the new building," Read said. "The second floor could be for grange storage and have offices for the recreation department and emergency management."

"We don't have enough town office space," he said, " at this time."

The main floor would be used for grange functions, Read said, as well as special events and could perhaps have two handicap accessible bathrooms for public use.

For now, grange meetings are held at neighboring St. Mark's Church.

The grange is hopeful things will work out.

"We met with the first selectman on Nov. 12," grange correspondent Charles Perry wrote in a Nov. 30 newsletter. "He informed us of the town's plan for the grange hall. The town owns the building and apparently it is very much in need of work."

Dean Perry is secretary of the Bridgewater Grange. He said the grange has 54 members, with at least 10 young farmers who have recently joined.

"We didn't know the building was as bad as the first selectman told us," Perry said. "We knew it had problems. There's no insulation and we close it in the winter."

"The window panes are cracked and the windows can't be opened without worrying about them crashing down and shattering," he added. "The second floor can't be used. We knew all that."

Perry said since Metichewan Grange from New Milford merged with Bridgewater Grange five years ago, some "sprucing up" has been done to the building. Painting has been done on the interior to brighten the rooms, he said.

Yet the appliances in the kitchen are old and "clunking out," he noted, so the roast beef dinners had been cut back.

"The selectmen want to put in a new, community septic system that the new grange building would share with the Bridgewater Village Store and St. Mark's Episcopal Church on either side of us," Perry said. "The septic system for the building had been failing."

The grange building was constructed in the 1850s as a two-room schoolhouse.

It became the Bridgewater Grange's home in 1901. Since 1999, the building has been town owned.

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352