Tour elicits support for restoring historic church

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Voluntown - posted Mon., Aug. 26, 2013
Town residents tour the interior of the former Methodist meetinghouse in Voluntown prior to a meeting on the building's future. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

About 60 local residents toured the 1841 Voluntown Meetinghouse on Aug. 21 and attended a subsequent meeting designed to gauge public support for saving the deteriorating structure. Ty Cool of the Voluntown Historic Meetinghouse Society (VHMS) said he saw the public response at the meeting as “overwhelmingly supportive” of moving forward on efforts to save and restore the structure. He said that he even received an offer of volunteer labor from a building tradesman.

“Just about everyone there was for fixing it,” said First Selectman Ron Millovitsch. However, he noted, “some people are very vocal against it, and none of them showed up.” He said that VHMS members were welcome to pursue grants to fund the restoration of the church, but that the selectmen are unwilling to spend tax dollars on the project in light of other town needs. “You’ve got a list of priorities. We need a town garage, grading and road work,” he said.

In addition, he said, “there are still a lot of questions involved” about the logistics of working on the structure. The lack of clearance between the structural walls and the neighboring property line makes work on the exterior difficult, he said. It also means that there is no potential for water or septic service, which would preclude the installation of restrooms, complicating hopes to turn the restored structure into a community center.

A suggestion that the structure be moved to a larger, roomier site might solve that problem, said Millovitsch. “It would be great to save that church if we had a place to work on it,” he said.

Cool agreed that moving the building “is another option worth exploring” if easements for exterior work can’t be obtained. He said that the VHMS plans to pursue grants, but it’s still hoping for a firm, long-term commitment from town officials first, since the town owns the property. “We need the town to commit to saving it before we can go for grant money,” he said.

The VHMS plans to send members to the Sept. 3 selectmen’s meeting with plans in hand for grant applications and hopes of obtaining support from the board, he said. Cool said he hopes that support from town officials, even if only on paper and not backed up by funds, would extend over a period of years due to the scope of the project. A sequence of grants over the course of years might be necessary, to repair first the roof, then the windows, and so on. “We don’t have to go for the whole enchilada in one fell swoop,” he said. “I’d like to see them commit for 10 years.”

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