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Column: Seeking a fair resolution on the Grafton Center Meetinghouse

  • The meetinghouse, at right, in Grafton Center, N.H., in a 1950s photograph. (Courtesy photograph)



For the Valley News
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

It is with great reluctance that I lift my pen to respond to the editorial that was published recently in the Sunday Valley News (“Preservation delayed, preservation derailed: Grafton dispute threatens to condemn historic meetinghouse,” July 7).

Why, you might ask? Because those who sing from the rooftops do not represent all of the folks in Grafton. They represent a group of people from Grafton and “the world beyond” who have the time to work on preserving the Grafton Center Meetinghouse. But there are many other people in Grafton; most are busy trying to make ends meet. Regardless, those of us on the Selectboard represent all of the citizens in Grafton, not just the individuals for whom the editorial advocated. And the rooftop singers will continue to misrepresent the Selectboard.

A truly “philanthropic” organization would be donating money to good causes and its members would be offering financial support, not turning to a struggling town and demanding that it subsidize its endeavors.

The members of Peaceful Assembly Church were more than happy with the status quo of allowing a rotting, burned-out building to sit prominently in the center of town. Thankfully, the Selectboard took action and litigated broken agreements and a court of law has ruled in its favor.

If it were not for the Selectboard taking this action and prevailing, the meetinghouse would have never been made available for sale. It is this very action that has pressured the individuals involved to make this decision. In fact, when the Peaceful Assembly Church announced its intention to sell the property, it was the Selectboard members themselves who contacted the founders of this fledgling group, Mascoma Valley Preservation, to let them know of the possible sale. But never did the Selectboard dream that these two parties would come to determine that the taxpayers should foot the bill. What happened to good old-fashioned fundraising? Where did all of the good Samaritans go when it came to paying for the purchase of the meetinghouse?

Although the Selectboard had agreed to consider waiving a certain amount of the outstanding debt as a goodwill gesture, it never expected that doing so would not be good enough. Nor did it expect that Mascoma Valley Preservation would plan to petition the town to forgive all past debts.

It is important to understand that Mascoma Valley Preservation signed a purchase-and-sale agreement that allowed the members of the church to walk away with $7,000 in their pockets, relieve them of an unpaid $22,000 debt with the town and, on top of that, allowed church members to have “continued access to the property” to use the building at their whim, rent free, for the next 10 years.

The purpose of a lien on a property is to have a mechanism that makes certain past debts are resolved. Mascoma Valley Preservation and Peaceful Assembly Church are attempting to circumvent that process. The purchase-and-sale agreement and the town’s petition for injunctive relief are public documents and are available at the Grafton Town Office. I urge all those interested to read them before forming an opinion. They will tell the story not seen here or on social media. As one concerned resident stated, the purchase-and-sale agreement is good for Peaceful Assembly Church and bad for the town and Mascoma Valley Preservation.

I am looking forward to finding a fair solution that is fact-driven, rather than one relying on spin.

Steve Darrow is a member of the Grafton Selectboard.