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Church-affiliated group wants to make former Elks Lodge building into community center

  • The Hartford Elks Lodge, also known as the “Horace Pease House," on Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Hartford, Vt. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2020 9:43:07 PM
Modified: 7/1/2020 9:42:59 PM

HARTFORD VILLAGE — A local church-affiliated community group hopes a $60,000 federal grant will help them turn the former Elks Lodge in Hartford into a community center.

“It will be a place where people can finally be together, a place where people can learn and share ... become part of our local economy,” said Sharon Miller-Dombroski, grant writer for the community group, adding that it would offer classes and child care.

Miller-Dombroski and other members of the Cornerstone Community Center — which is affiliated with the non-denominational Christian church, Praise Chapel — made an in-person presentation to the Selectboard on Tuesday evening regarding the Vermont Community Development Program grant and the group’s plans to renovate the 140-year-old Horace Pease building on Route 4. One Selectboard member attended the meeting virtually. The chapel purchased the building, which was previously used by the Elks Club, last year as a site to hold Cornerstone events.

At the meeting, board members voted unanimously to hold a public hearing and gather input from Hartford residents on whether the town should apply for the grant to help the center’s renovation process.

“I don’t anticipate any issues. I think it will be a good thing for the town of Hartford, but we’ll hear from the public and see,” said Selectboard Chairman Dan Fraser.

Cornerstone members say the grant would allow them to complete environmental and historic preservation reviews and an “Impact Standards and Feasibility Study” on the property to determine how much work is needed.

The money and completion of the reviews could also help the group apply for more grant funding down the road, according to a statement from Cornerstone included in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting.

The presentation was met with little discussion Tuesday, but board member Kim Souza questioned whether applying for the grant could conflict with a rule that federal grant funding may not be given to support religious activities.

“If the funds are used to purchase and renovate the building itself, does that mean there are no religious activities happening in that center?” she asked.

Kathy Janisse, of Praise Chapel, said that faith-based organizations, like the Cornerstone and the chapel, may apply for federal funds as long as the funds are not used for religious activities.

While the CCC’s offerings won’t be religious in nature, the building will be open to the public and to other local groups, who may decide to hold religious events there, she said.

The discussion comes six months after the chapel purchased the building for just under $600,000 in December. In February, church members announced plans to expand its community center into the building, allowing Cornerstone to have a “centralized hub of services” for the community, the statement said.

With the new space, the center can expand its day care program — which currently serves around 40 children — to 80, according to the statement. Cornerstone plans to also offer career development and career counseling programs for adults, an expanded food pantry, and a games and activities center.

A budget attached to the agenda Tuesday showed the largest price tag — after the cost of buying the building — is a $200,000 indoor-outdoor renovation and paving project. Combined with supplies for the after school program, the food bank and general facility costs, the cost of turning the building into a community center comes out to just under $900,000.

A call to Janisse regarding the progress made on the building so far was not returned Wednesday. In a February interview Janisse said crews had been working on cleaning out the building since buying it.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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