CALAIS — After 18 months of renovations and upgrades, the historic Calais Town Hall is about six weeks away from the completion of work that has cost about $500,000.
The project began in March 2018, after voters at town meeting approved spending $200,000 on the project. Another $250,000 for the project came from anonymous donors, with fundraising continuing to meet final costs.
For those involved, the project is about preserving a historic building that has served as a church, town hall and meeting place for 153 years. It’s also about a renovation and upgrade to demolish and rebuild the ground floor for use as a year-round meeting space for town boards and commissions and the community; raise the building above the floodplain; rebuild a rear two-story addition to allow for access by people with disabilities; install a new code-compliant elevator; and build a new septic system.
Some of the upgrades will also help provide a new home for a Maple Corner theater troupe that recently had to vacate the Blue Barn Theater on Curtis Pond because it was not fire-code compliant. Other theater, music and dance events are also expected to take place in the new space.
Previous spending totaling $100,000 included a new roof, replacement of upper-story windows, hydrological surveys to update FEMA floodplain maps, and to hire consultants to scope building improvements currently underway.
John McCullough, of Artichoke Design in Calais, has been the architect for the project, and worked closely with fellow resident Ernie Parrish before his death after a brief illness in August at the age of 44. Parish was also noted for his work on other local projects that included the renovation of the steeple at The Old West Church, and the Robinson Sawmill.
McCullough was busy Wednesday, working on the renovations to the ground floor of the town hall that included installing radiant floor heating that will allow the building to be used in the winter for meetings of town boards and commissions and the community that have overwhelmed the nearby new town offices.
Both floors will be heated by a new heating plant – replacing wall furnaces – and other energy-use improvements include dense cellulose insulation in the walls, rebuilding the large window frames to reduce heat loss and plans to build custom-made storm windows.
“What we expect it to do is perform well, thermally,” McCullough said.
McCullough said that where possible, original design features would be preserved or repurposed. Wooden pillars on the ground floor that support the floor above would be refurbished and separated from old wall divides to make them stand out, he said.
Upstairs, the former church pews’ seating that used to accommodate town meetings have been removed to allow for dances and theater, and a music stage was built by local craftsman Chris Miller. The wood from the pews will be used as paneling for the kitchen and counter on the ground floor, McCullough said.
Other details included enclosing the corner stairway upstairs with a one-hour enclosure – a fire-code requirement – that included a magnetic door release to allow the stairs to remain visible, except in the event of a fire that would automatically close the door to prevent a fire spreading.
A $30,000 accessibility grant helped fund a lift upstairs – a cross between a wheelchair lift and an elevator – that allows disabled access to both floors and includes a third stop at the stage elevation on the second floor. Also on the second floor is a large room that can be used for storage room or as a green room for theater actors. The existing giant brass ceiling chandelier will remain in place, McCullough said.
McCullough also paid credit to other involved in the project and included Donna Fitch, former town clerk, Select Board members Denise Wheeler and Clif Emmons, builder Scott Bassage, David Schutz, a member of the Calais Historical Society, and construction workers Carter Blanchard and Simon Cohen, of Greenline Builders in Calais, who continued to work on the project after co-owner Ernie Parrish died.
McCullough said that the project was only 4% over budget, despite some structural challenges to renovating an old building – which included raising and moving the building to build a new foundation before moving it back again.
“We would welcome anyone that wants to contribute to this project,” he added, referring to both money, expertise and time to assist with numerous needs.
Additional funds are still needed for the interior finish and to paint the outside of the building.
For more information, call McCullough at 223-1658.