Progress on the Soldiers Memorial Building (12/05)

Notes on Special Joint Meeting of the Historical District Commission (HDC)/Soldiers Memorial Building Advisory Board (SMBAB)

November 30, 2005 – Lebanon City Hall

Members of the Historical Society have participated, over the past five months, in revitalization of the Historic District Commission. After learning about the deteriorating condition of the Soldiers Memorial Building, the HDC chair called a joint meeting with the Building Advisory Board to discuss what can be done to repair the building before it is lost.

The Society, itself, does not have formal standing in this process other than its Commission representation by president Jay Collier. Nevertheless, the Society certainly encourages the preservation of historical buildings in Lebanon.

Here is a summary of main points relevant to the Society, compiled by Jay Collier. Please see the official minutes, when posted, for complete details.

Presentation

Robert Klein, City Engineer: Current problems with the Soldiers Memorial Building include:
One side of cornice has fallen off and is stored in basement.
Chimney is slanted; perhaps a recent problem.
Front doors need serious repair.
Window sills are rotting away.
Basement window sills are so rotten, they would be difficult to refinish.
Basement needs to be cleaned out.
Furnace could be pumping carbon monoxide into the building (this will be repaired tomorrow).
Oil tanks are rusted and need replacing.
The water heater is vented illegally (plans are for electric instant hot water supply).
Floor tiles (perhaps with asbestos) are breaking up.
Items are stored on stairs in potential violation of fire code.
Interior doors need to be refinished.
Some of the stained glass window leading is damaged.
The immediate need is a building evaluation study (about $10,000).

David Brooks, Associate Planner: Potential sources for funding include:
NH LCHIP program. Projects may be added to LCHIP’s state “Historic Register” inventory until December 31, 2005 for potential funding.
NH Moose Plate Program.
NH Preservation Alliance.
Connecticut River Joint Commissions Partnership Program.
Others: National Trust, PSNH, Preserve America Initiative, Save America’s Treasures, Historic New England.

Discussion

Gregg Mandsanger, City Manager: There are two main options for funding an evaluation study:
External funding, which wouldn’t be available until June.
Request for city funding of $12,000 for immediate engineering evaluation of the site.

Mandsanger recommends the second option.

Ken Niweczyk, City Planner: The study will tell what needs to be done and what it is going to cost.

MOTION TO RECOMMEND THE CITY COUNCIL APPROVE FUNDING FOR THE INITIAL STUDY PASSED UNANIMOUSLY.

Dan Nash, HDC: Perhaps other historic structures should be considered for LCHIP status, as well, such as the Glen Road Bridge.

Robert Welsch, chair, HDC: The Dana House is being proposed for the LCHIP.

Jean Baarson, HDC: What needs to be in the application?

Brooks: I am working with Shelley Hadfield to fine-tune the draft to better reflect current situation. There are two 50-word narratives that need to be completed.

James Dean, mayor: What might the bill be: $100,000 or $500,000?

Klein: The cost could be as much as a million dollars.

Frank Mastro, former mayor: I recommend that historical issues be kept foremost in mind.

Baarson: Please remember that the stained glass windows from that period in a Soldiers Memorial may be unique in the country.

Nash: The District Commission is only charged to evaluate applications for external work that changes the facade of the building. I’d like to caution the Commission about making statements about interior work or exterior work that does not require an evaluation.

Annette Scott, SMBAB: I’m very afraid that the Soldiers Memorial Building might end up as a museum. It’s supposed to be used for only veterans. A recent article in Valley News suggested that a museum might be possible.

Welsch: A museum is not under discussion by either the Advisory Board or the District Commission.

Mastro: When I was mayor, I recommended turning it into a museum, and it was quite controversial. The thing to keep in mind is that very few people are actually allowed inside the building, so we need to ask how it can be used for for more public purposes. For example, if it can’t be used for voting because that’s not a use by veterans, then what can it be used for? It can’t become an exclusive place.

Terri Dudley, SMBAB: Veteran’s groups are now using it more regularly.

Mastro: Here’s something to think about. The Opera House leases the interior of the City Hall. Something like that with the Soldiers Memorial would allow for greater use.

Collier: Is there a original deed that stated how the building had to be used? For example, there is quite a difference between “for veterans” or “for only veterans.” It would help to have clarification.

Mastro: Actually, the first floor of the building was a library in its early years, not related to veteran’s use at all.

Dan Downes, HDC, SMBAB: And what about the Odd Fellows who use the building regularly and have put money into renovation? That’s not a veteran’s group. If it’s “for only veterans,” then what about the Odd Fellows?

Dean: It would be helpful to have a statement that reaffirms the original use of the building as now understood in 2005. Also, if the City hasn’t been maintaining the building, then it should; fundamentals should be paid for by the city. Certainly, historic funding should be used for the additional work of historical renovation, but the City should take care of water damage and other basic things.

Dudley: The City should make sure not to take any action that changes the historic nature of the building, such as changing to a new kind of window glass not in keeping with history.

Art Creighton, SMBAB: Has there been any effort to get veteran’s groups involved in this conversation?

Welsch: Not yet, that would be the next step. There must be a patriotic goal here. Having school groups go into the building is in the spirit of the building. The LCHIP application should be generic to cover preservation of building.

MOTION TO APPLY FOR “HERITAGE REGISTER” INVENTORY STATUS WITH THE LCHIP PROGRAM. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY BY SOLDIERS MEMORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE.

Collier: I’m interested in knowing what the District Commission is voting for. We only have standing if external changes are proposed. If the LCHIP application is strictly focused on external physical issues, then we can support that. If it includes language about future or interior use, then I’d rather that be cleared up before we put it into the state record. I don’t want to allow incorrect expectations to build up.

Welsch: The draft will be updated based on tonight’s conversation.

Dudley: In the current draft, I see language about the building being a museum and alterations for ADA accessibility. Neither are related to repairing and maintaining the building. For instance, the Advisory Committee has been concerned about the building being accessible for many years, and received an exception to the ruling, allowing a portable ramp for first-floor access, rather than costly major renovations. That is another conversation that tonight’s. I recommend that the last sentence in the draft application be excluded.

Welsch: Agreed.

MOTION APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY BY HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION.

Dudley: The final item asks who should be active in moving the project ahead. I believe it should be led by the City Manager.

Agreed by numerous participants.

APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY BY ALL MEMBERS OF BOTH GROUPS.

Lebanon Historical Society: P.O.Box 18, Lebanon NH 03766
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