Warner takes innovative approach to saving historic Odd Fellows building

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The town has purchased this parcel at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road hoping to eventually build a new fire station there. (Ray Carbone/photo)

Warner approves solar array, fire station plan, budget… and idea of demolishing Odd Fellows building

Above: The town has purchased this parcel at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road hoping to eventually build a new fire station there. (Ray Carbone/photo)

WARNER – It took more than four hours, but more than 300 residents crowded into the town hall Wednesday for the annual town meeting, and voted to accepted virtually every proposal offered by town leaders and fellow citizens.

The group unanimously approved an annual operating budget of $3,070,486, which is an increase of 1.7-percent over last year’s budget, and will result in a projected property tax rate of $9.82. They heartily supported a proposal to advance plans for a new fire station. They accepted the idea of asking the selectman to demolish the historic Odd Fellows building if recent efforts to sell it to a local building contractor don’t work out.

But perhaps most significantly for many, in a 270-44 secret ballot vote, the residents overwhelmingly approved spending $338,530 to construct a solar panel array nearby the transfer station. The project could defray rising costs electricity costs in municipal facilities and eventually allow the town to generate revenue by selling “excess” electrical power back to the New England grid. Last year, a similar plan narrowly fell short of the two-thirds majority needed.

“I’m going to vote for it, but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

Paul Goneau, resident, referrinng to tentaive plans to build a new fire station.

Solar power is popular with Warner homeowners, according to town leaders, and voters at the meeting trusted their selectman’s claim that the array will have no impact on local property taxes. Speaking for the board, member John Dabuliewicz said that $273,595 of the total costs will be financed with a low 2-percent, 12-year loan the town is taking under the state’s Municipal Finance Act, and the payments will, in effect, be paid from the savings the town realizes from solar power. The remaining $64,935 will come back to the town as a refund from the NH Public Utilities Commission for extra electricity the facility puts into the regional electrical grid, Dabuliewicz added.

But not everyone was convinced. “The way this is being packaged is slightly misleading,” resident John Heaton told the crowd. “Eversource is not a charity,” he added, suggesting that the power company will raise its rates to pay for the income it loses to solar power initiatives. “Solar is expensive,” he said.

But George Horrocks of Harmony Energy Works, which is assisting the town with the project, said that recent jumps in energy costs are not related to solar, but rather to over-estimates about the impact of natural gas in the market. “As rates go up, you’re going to save over a half-million dollars (with the solar array),” Horrocks told the voters.

Resident Paul Goneau, a former chief finance operator with the NH Housing and Finance Authority, expressed concerns about cash-flow issues in the proposal, including the lack of funds for operating costs. But town leaders said there are virtually no costs to operating the passive solar array system.

The meeting then moved on to a plan to add $182,000, including $100,000 in new taxes, to a fund earmarked for the construction of a new fire station at the corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road. Town leaders have been working on the project for several years because they maintain the current Main Street station is inadequate for a modern department. The new funds will allow engineering and design work to move forward.

Some people were concerned about the final cost of the station, which town leaders currently estimate to about $2.5 million. Bill Balsam of Waterloo predicted that rising construction costs and debt service on a building loan could eventually jump the final figure for to close to $4-million. “I’m going to vote for it,” he announced, “but very, very reluctantly. Because I’m not sure a community of this size can support that level of debt.”

In a ballot vote, the proposal was approved, 159-48.

Later in the meeting, Rebecca Couser, director of the Warner Historical Society, addressed the warrant article she supported that would have the selectmen begin making plans to demolish the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building and bring a cost proposal to next year’s meeting.

Courser said that since contractor Nate Burrington entered into negotiations with the selectmen to buy the building in recent weeks, she proposed amending the article to give the board several more weeks to complete a purchase-and-sale agreement. If there is no deal, she said, the demolition plan should move forward.

A deadline is necessary, Courser said, because previous efforts to sell the building had languished for months without resolution. “I would just like a plan in place in case this (Burrington) plan does not go through in the next few weeks,” she explained.

The amendment passed, 92-25, and the approved article passed in a voice vote.

In other actions, the voters okayed beginning voting on election days at 7 a.m., one hour earlier than it currently occurs, and the selectman announced that an informal poll before the meeting indicated some support for moving the annual gatherings to Saturday mornings in the future.

Correction: The Odd Fellows building measure  approved by voters does not contain a deadline for negotiating a sale with resident Nate Burrington.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, March 21, 2017.

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The historic Odd Fellows building in Warner village has been vacant since the 1990s.

Local man wants to save Warner’s Odd Fellows building

(This story was originally published in the InterTown Record.)

The largest and handsomest business block by far in our village is the new Odd Fellows’ building that is just approaching completion… – Kearsarge Independent, April 1, 1892

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – After almost 20 years and multiple development plans, and spending more than $50,000, town leaders may have finally found the person who can restore and renovate the historic Odd Fellows Building by looking right down the road.
At a public hearing before the board of selectmen in town hall Tuesday, Warner native and resident Nate Burrington, of Burlington Builders and Maintenance, announced his intention to purchase the 125-year-old wooden village structure from the town. He plans to restore and renovate the 72’-by-42’, three-story building on his own, and use it primarily for his personal and business needs.
“I think we can do it,” Burrington said late last week. “I think it’s a good building, and even if I don’t make a ton of money (on the renovation), it should be in Warner.”
Burrington said he has experience repurposing old structures locally, including the adjacent Schoodacs Coffee & Tea building and several homes in the Bradford area. His tentative plans are to restore the local building’s first floor and use it for his building contracting business, probably a combination office and workshop. The third floor, which Burrington said has a gorgeous and unique view of the community, could become residential space for one or two tenants, he said.
And if stabilizing the second floor proves too difficult, the contractor might take it out and allow the first floor to have a high ceiling; the building’s many windows will flood the space with natural lighting.
He’s proposing a six-year project estimated to cost between $300,00 and $400,000. “It would all be out-of-pocket; no bank would give me the money right now,” he said He said he will do most of the work himself and that, as a contractor, he’ll be able to make use of left-over materials from other projects.
Town administrator Jim Bingham agreed with Burrington that the 19th century Church Street building is structurally sound. “The most serious pollution issue on the site has already been resolved,” he noted, referring to an environmental cleanup project completed about five years ago.
The town has resolved a drainage problem in the area that hampered earlier proposals, and allowing the new building owner to have nine spaces in the village area will rectify a shortage of available parking.
Burrington said he wants to seek grant support to restore the iconic clock tower – and, perhaps, the slate roofing. And he plans to shore-up the foundation; earlier proposal called for raising the building to install a new foundation. Both ideas will keep the renovation within reasonable costs, he said.
It was back in 1892 that local businessmen, who were members of the local Central Lodge of the international Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows, built the handsome facility. Jim McLaughlin, chairman of the town’s building committee, said its design and structure are unique to the region.
“It’s amazing how it was put together,” he said. “There’s not any other buildings like this in New England.”
The Odd Fellows and the local Masons, another fraternal organization – used the village structure until 1964. Since then, it’s served as everything from an industrial arts classroom to commercial space to private housing. A variety of owners used it until 1998 but after Bruce Martin, who lived and rented out rooms in the building, passed away in the late 1990s, some townspeople were afraid the Odd Fellows building would be purchased and demolished by a developer.
The town bought it for $50,000 in 1999, and a committee of residents was formed to find a way to maintain, renovate and reuse the Odd Fellows building. The group worked with several developers as well as myriad government agencies and grant organizations but was unable to find a program that would work. Proposals ranged from developing the space for commercial use to workforce housing to elderly housing however none were able to find the financial backing needed.
As recently as the February 2 budget committee hearing, Rebecca Courser, director of the Warner Historical Society and a longtime proponent for saving the Odd Fellows building spoke in favor of a petition article that would ask the selectmen to begin looking into ways to take the structure down. Courser said she was concerned about the safety of the empty wooden building after so many years of futility. (Residents will consider the petition at the annual town meeting next month.)
Burrington said that his approach – doing the work himself and utilizing the building, rather than looking for a big profit down the road – will work where other plans have not.
Bingham reported that about 25 people attended Tuesday’s hearing and most were appreciate of the local man’s idea. “It seemed like there was a strong level of support for transferring the property to the contractor,” he said.
One issue that still concerns the selectmen is a timeline for completing the work, Bingham explained. They want some recourse if Burlington is unable to fulfill his part of the sales agreement, Bingham said. “So they’re looking into how they can work that into an arrangement that obligates the contractor to meet certain deadline on rehabbing the building.
“That being said, the board and myself are walking away (from initial negotiations) fairly optimistic,” Bingham added.
Building committee chairman McLaughlin, who was at the meeting, is even more enthusiastic. “This is probably the first real bright spot we’ve had in a long time,” he said.
The selectmen hope to release more information about Burrington’s proposal – including the “token price” he would pay the town for the building – at their next public hearing on Wednesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

Ray Carbone can be reached at raycarbone@yahoo.com


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Anastasia (Anna) Glavas was born in Canada but somehow found her way to small town America. She works part-time in the local schools and at Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum. When she isn't there, she is either at home...

Darryl Parker is an elected official with the Town of Warner (Almoner) and a Director for the Warner Historical Society. He and his wife purchased 1 East Main Street next door to Town Hall in 2014 and renovated...

Joanna and her family have lived in Warner for 14 years. She enjoys her job in Special Education in the Kearsarge District, her Communications and Illustration freelance work, and her volunteer work as a Costume Desi...

Katie has lived in Warner for the last two years and has enjoyed becoming familiar with the small town's atmosphere. Prior to living in Warner, she lived in Henniker, NH. Katie is an alumni of New England College and...

Ray Carbone was born in Virginia and grew up in the New York City area. But he moved to New England in the 1970s and he's he never left.
Ray's byline has appeared on a variety of media platforms including National Pu...

Vince was born in New Mexico, raised in California and then moved to New Hampshire in 1993. He became a resident of Warner officially in 2001. Vince has coached soccer in the WYSA program for many years. Now that...

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