'This was round one': Despite vote, Bridgewater group still strives to save Grange Hall

Bridgewater Grange Hall

Bridgewater Grange Hall

H John Voorhees III / Reporter

BRIDGEWATER — Despite a vote of 155 to 89 in favor of the town retaining control over the Grange Hall building, Neil Olshansky — president of the Bridgewater Preservation Association — said the issue is far from resolved.

“This was round one, and what that means is that the town will not be selling the building to the BPA (Bridgewater Preservation Association),” Olshansky said. “It does not mean that the Grange is in imminent danger of being town down.”

The vote, which took place Thursday evening during the town’s annual meeting, pertains to a five-year dispute between the town and the BPA over whether the Grange — a historic landmark in town — should be renovated or torn down.

First Selectman Curtis Read said the building is not salvageable and he would like it taken down and turned into a community center.

The town was awarded a Connecticut Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for $100,000 to demolish the Grange, excavate oil contamination and develop detailed plans for a new building on the same site.

The only contingency is that the Connecticut Historic Commission and attorney general’s office would have to allow this to happen, according to Read, in a prior statement.

“The state and BPA group are insisting on a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote to sell the town’s asset with appropriate conditions for $1. We presume a ‘No’ vote would enable the town to control the future of our own property and release the state’s prohibition against demolition,” said a press release previously sent out by the town.

Paper ballots, petition

At Thursday’s meeting, which was held outside at the Pratt Pavilion and had more than 250 people in attendance, residents were asked to answer Yes or No in response to the following: “To authorize the Board of Selectmen to negotiate the sale of land and buildings located at 11 Main Street South, Bridgewater, CT to the Bridgewater Preservation Association with appropriate conditions, by paper ballot.”

On Friday, Olshansky said the wording on the ballot wasn’t clear and may have caused some people to vote differently than planned.

“I overheard at the end, a few people who thought that ‘No’ meant not allowing the town to tear down the building, so I think there was some confusion on the wording of the resolution,” he said.

Olshansky said the BPA may hold a petition drive to poll residents, in order to get an idea for what percentage of the town wants to save the building.

“It would be a petition to save it, not to see who’s going to own it,” he said.

He added the goal of the BPA to save the Grange building, and not necessarily to own it.

“We don’t care who owns it as long as it’s saved,” he said. “The vote (on Thursday) was simply whether or not to sell. There is no question the building can be saved. There are a number of reasonable and prudent alternatives to demolition that have not yet been fully explored. As far as I’m concerned, it’s far from over.”

On Friday, Read said, however, that the outcome of the vote determined that residents already made their opinion heard.

“It was the end of a long battle and five years of trying to get a solution to this that was reasonable, from most people’s point of view,” Read said.

Next steps

Read plans to write to the state, Gov. Ned Lamont and the economic assistance program in regard to the STEAP grant.

“I’m presuming that now, this is the vote they told us we had to have,” he said, adding the vote, which was about 64 percent (for town ownership of the grange) to 37 percent (for BPA ownership) — is “clear enough and at this point, we’re hoping that they will be expeditious in their release of any restrictions on this so that we can go out to bid and commence to take the building down carefully and clean the site in preparation for whatever the next phase is going to be.”