BERLIN - The Town Council recently authorized acting Town Manager Jack Healy to work on drafting lease agreements with the Friends of the Worthington Meeting House for the town-owned property.
The agreements would allow the group to solicit funds for the restoration of the building and its reuse as the home of the Berlin Historical Society.
“With the loss of the train station, it’s probably more important to preserve our history,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski at the Feb. 20 council meeting. He was referring to the fire in December 2016 that destroyed the 100-plus-year-old station on Depot Road.
The Worthington Meeting House was built in 1774 and was used as a church, a school and as Town Hall over the years. It became vacant in 1974, when town offices were moved to the current Town Hall complex.
The building contains much of its original structure, including beams charred in an 1884 fire and autographs on the roof supports from children who climbed up there to leave their mark.
“We propose that an agreement drafted some years ago be updated to reflect the new interior configuration of the building and to provide a long-term lease,” said Lorraine Stub, president of the friends group and secretary of the society, at the council meeting. “The original draft agreement was never signed because the time frame of five years was deemed unrealistic.”
The society lacks adequate storage space for its museum at its current home in the old Peck Library on Main Street, according to Stub, and wants to ensure that the historic town building is used to make Berlin a destination.
But because of the town’s financial struggles amid the state’s budget deficit, it has been unable to commit funds to the project estimated at $2.2 million.
“I absolutely love the project,” said Councilor JoAnn Angelico-Stetson. “I think that the structure is just beautiful, that it’s something that Berlin needs so desperately. It’s a gorgeous historical structure.”
Other councilors echoed those same sentiments.
The friends group recently met with Dave Obedzinski of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, an organization that helps nonprofits with fundraising opportunities.
“Although we already knew this, he stressed how important it is that the uses of the building be set in stone so that donors will not be concerned that the town council might change its mind as to how the building will be used,” said Stub.
The friends group has design development plans being made by Smith Edwards and McCoy Architects, of Hartford, for the restoration and reuse of the building. They are expected to be finished within the next few months.
They come after the group attained two grants totaling $20,000 last year. Schematic plans had been made when the friends group pushed for a reuse of the building, but schematic plans alone aren’t sufficient for grant funding sources to release money, according to Stub.
“We feel that this design best showcases the building that the space created will be an awe inspiring place to visit,” said Stub.
Work was done on the building in the 2000s to stabilize it and hook it up to utilities again. About $29,000 remains in the town’s account for the house.
Last month, the Berlin Historical Society purchased 725 Worthington Ridge, immediately behind the Worthington Meeting House with funds received from a bequest.
The house will allow for even greater storage space for the museum, as the 1.4-acre property will solve previous parking concerns and provide more green space for outdoor programming.
The friends group will also have more time to solicit the funds for the project, while the town maintains the grounds and utilities of the building, said Healy at the council meeting. The cost is around $5,000 to 10,000 a year, he said.
The council will review the lease agreements after Healy and the town’s corporation counsel prepare them. Healy said the Friends of the Worthington Meeting House will continue to be involved in the process, as they have been up to this point.
Charles Paullin can be recahed at 860-801-5074 or email@example.com.