Groton Revitalization: Before, During and After

The open house for the Groton Revitalization Project will be held on July 23, 2006.  The pictures below depict the project overview for the General Store/ Groton Downtown complex.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge - click on the Browser "Back" button to return to this page.  (Aerial photos by John Gordon.)

 

Before (October 2004)

During (July 2005)

After (July 2006)

After Perspective (July 2006)

 

Groton Revitalization: Why, When and What

Why:

 

The present library was completed around 1955 and originally, it occupied all of the space currently used by the library and the town clerk’s office.  The town later took half the space for town offices.  Over the years it was able to expand to include a children’s room and book discussion room using the very limited basement space at the town hall.  The need for library services has continued to grow but available space has actually shrunk. The town offices and library are both crammed into inadequate spaces with no room left for expansion without going into the kitchen.  So the library began looking for a solution.

 

Originally, the old Morrison house beside Brown’s Bistro was considered.  Josephine French, the owner at the time, was open to the possibility of donating its use to the library.  However the building had a number of very expensive renovation issues and its layout was inconsistent with a public space as it was never designed or used as a commercial space. The library didn’t have the extensive funding needed to fix it up and make it into a new library.  They talked to the then State Representative Al Stevens and local organizations.  A town wide “visioning session” in Jan. 2001 was sponsored by the Library and moderated by the Vermont Extension Service to brainstorm possible avenues for exploration and to stimulate interest. 

 

At the Brainstorming meeting subcommittees to study how to accomplish their goal were established.  Patrick and Tamara Shattuck had just moved to town and attended the meeting. . Patrick with his background in community redevelopment and public funding was just what the project required and was made the chairman of the building expansion committee. He laughs today remembering how a few innocent words as a newcomer lead him on this odyssey. Little did he know at the time where that first step would take him.  Soon, the Library Trustees conducted a phone survey asking for public input.  They toured various libraries throughout the State and solicited feedback from staff and trustees at other libraries.  They began to look at available structures within the town center. The Pancake House, old Morrison Hall, Goodine House and the Groton General Store were all considered.

 

What all this town effort and analysis revealed was that the town center was in serious trouble and the problem was bigger than just the library needing new space.  Groton was about to lose their general store and there were a number of buildings in the town center that no private citizen could possibly afford to fix up due to their deteriorated condition and environmental issues.  So the project began to grow in scope as needs meshed.

This knowledge of the town’s need for assistance wasn’t new but was certainly becoming more pressing each year.  In 1984, when Richard Hausman was our State Representative, NECCA wrote a project feasibility study funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and put together an extensive market analysis and related recommendation for redevelopment.   However the town was not ready at that time to address the looming downtown deterioration.  Over time, progress was made on other fronts.  Residents of the Town approached the Gilman Housing Trust, an area affordable housing developer and provider to develop affordable, attractive senior housing.  In 1997, GHT developed Clarks Landing, a 9-unit HUD Section 202 senior development near the center of the village. The Senior Center was the first large scale project funded by grants that really let people in Groton know that good things could be accomplished working with state agencies.

Two years later, GHT began the rehabilitation of the Welch Apartments; a multi-family building owned by an absentee landlord which had been condemned by the State.  The Welch Apartments now supplies 6 units of affordable housing which have proven to be in big demand and have been occupied almost exclusively by people from Groton.  The finishing touches, which are the sidewalks, parking, and landscaping will be completed at the same time as the downtown project.

 

The Library Building Expansion Committee consulted with the Selectboard, Groton Historical Society and Community Club and together with Gilman Housing Trust and Housing Vermont developed a comprehensive plan for downtown redevelopment.  Some details of that original plan did not come to fruition, and the feasibility study was expanded and in 2003, the final buildings selected for redevelopment.

 

When:

The 2003 revised renovation plan included the General Store and the Goodine house and added the Lauzon House and the Pancake.  Both needed extensive reconstruction and fit within the project criteria.  The Lauzon house had functioned for many years as a multi-family dwelling.  It had 3 separate kitchen spaces and 3 separate electric meters.  The Lauzon property, a 1.4 acre site was also ideally configured to help accommodate the necessary septic and water system design, something which would have been impossible unless the three building sites were combined.

Over the next two years, GHT and Housing Vermont teamed up to put together one of the most extensive and complicated funding plans in the state.  As the project included affordable and market rate rental housing, commercial space, community facilities and upgrades to the public infrastructure, the need for a variety of funding sources was vital. Public support for the project was extensive and after the project was initially denied funding from the Vermont Community Development Program, over 30 Groton residents led by our State Representative Bud Otterman and Selectboard member Len Doscinski lobbied for that piece of funding.  In total, almost $5.8 million in grants and deferred loans were secured for village improvements. 

 

The Groton Community Housing development will rehabilitate five buildings in the center of Groton to provide a total of 19 apartments, a general store and 2-3 small commercial spaces, and a new home for the Groton Free library. The rehabilitation work, which spans the spectrum from complete rebuilding to historical preservation, began in May 2005 and will conclude in May 2006.  Environmental issues were also addressed like lead paint, septic problems, and removal of buried fuel tanks.

 

What:

The five buildings are:

The Pancake House (1579 Scott Highway)

This building was constructed as a restaurant in the 1970’s and somewhere along the line came to be called “The Pancake House”.  It has been used for housing since the restaurant. It is being replaced by a 4-unit apartment building on the old footprint. The original one story building in now two-story and the over-sized parking lot between the current building and Scott Highway will be reduced to create a smaller parking area and green space. 

Construction of the Pancake house is ahead of schedule and may be finished this year by November.  Visually, the building will be more in line with its historic surroundings than it was.

The Lauzon House (1352 Scott Highway)

The old Lauzon house was built around 1840 and will see significant rehabilitation. The scope of work includes a new foundation, removal of asbestos siding, restored porches, new electric, heating, water and septic systems, and the replacement of some additions. The completed building will house four apartments.  The Lauzon House did not meet specifications for the historic register because not enough of the original structure could be saved.  Completion is expected to be by Jan. 2006

The Groton General Store (1334 Scott Highway)

This large structure formerly housed the primary retail operation in the village as well as two large apartments and an abundance of storage space. A shed dormer will be added to the rear of the property allowing for the upward expansion to the third floor. The upper stories will provide four apartments while the first floor will be used for commercial activities.  Since the property is built into a hill, the apartments will be accessed from the elevated rear of the property making all the apartments handicapped accessible as needed. Parking and yard space will be separate from the commercial portion. 

Planning for the General Store is underway and a local resident, Robin Edwards, has the rights of first refusal.  Robin is researching the workings of small town general stores and designing a historically interesting interior space that will encourage community interaction. Three companies have expressed interest in the other small commercial spaces.

The General Store building is expected to be closed in by the first of the year and finished by the beginning of summer, 2006.  The General Store building was added to the historical register as the J.R. Darling Store

The Welch Block (168 Powder Spring Road)

This 6-unit building was extensively renovated by the Gilman Housing Trust using funds from the Vermont Community Development Program and others. The apartments have been in great demand and have proven the need for affordable rental space in the area. The landscaping, paving and sidewalks will be completed with the rest of the downtown project.

The Goodine House (1304 Scott Highway)

This building is being renovated to house the community library on the first floor and to provide one market-rate apartment on the second floor.  The Goodine house has been added to the historical register as the Alice Lord Goodine House.  Trustees and Friends of the Groton Library are directing a capital campaign to raise the balance of funding necessary for the library facility.  $50,000 is the library’s portion of the library building fund which the town will own free and clear after 5 years.  They hope to raise another $20,000 to pay for fixtures, furnishing and other interior work.  The library building will have an apartment upstairs whose rent will eventually contribute to the library running costs.

 

The driving forces behind the project are the Gilman Housing Trust and Housing VT.  Both entities will manage the project and provide technical expertise.  Sutton/Catamount won the bid for general contractor and they have been very responsive to town input and requests for cooperation.  Weekly meetings are held on-site to go over progress and details and are well attended by all parties involved.

The Gilman Housing Trust (GHT) is a regional nonprofit which offers a range of single family homeownership and rental programs. Housing Vermont is the other nonprofit organization involved. Created in 1988 by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, Housing Vermont provides affordable housing development services to community nonprofits throughout the state and raises equity through the syndication of tax credits.

This is a large and complex project, so it comes as no surprise that many funding sources were needed to make it successful. These organizations include:

US Department of Agriculture/Rural Development

Wells River Savings Bank

Passumpsic Savings Bank

Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank

Merchants Bank

Vermont Housing and Conservation Board

Vermont Community Development Program

Vermont Housing Finance Agency

Vermont Agency of Transportation

Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston

NeighborWorks

Efficiency Vermont

Groton Free Library

Gilman Housing Trust

Vermont Center for Independent Living

Preservation Trust of Vermont

Vermont Community Loan Fund

Eighteen of the 19 apartments will provide rental assistance for families who meet income and other qualifications. These families will pay approximately 30% of their monthly adjusted income for rent and utilities. Applications will be available in early 2006.

 

In addition to structural changes, the highway will see upgrades as well.  The VT Agency of Transportation awarded a grant to improve the sidewalks and curbing through town and residents can expect new lighting, parking and landscaping as well.  An informational kiosk by the Welch Apt and a sign at Veteran’s park will link us to the Cross VT Trail.  The original granite curbs will be restored and used wherever possible.

 

Test