A neighborhood dream to transform a mothballed home into a community arts center is moving toward reality with the approval of $230,000 in Community Preservation funding.
Part of Norfolk County Hospital, the Washington Street building was a physician’s home when the hospital was open. The hospital closed decades ago, and the town purchased the 1,275 square foot building and the 4.5-acre parcel of land in 2007.
Though updates have taken place around the property, the building has sat largely unused and without purpose until community members came up with the arts center idea.
“It’s been vacant for over 20 years and we had a lot of discussion about it and decided it was a great opportunity,” said Ann Toland, one of the Braintree residents behind the renovation application. “It’s right near a play ground area, [so] it would be a nice extension to have an arts and recreation center put into the building.”
Braintree had already paid $7,875 for a roof replacement, window replacements, and interior demolition, work that was done by Blue Hills Regional Technical School students.
Yet more work needed to be done to accommodate classroom space and community needs.
“There was a lot of work that had to be done, inside and outside,” Toland said. “And they are looking to put a large deck on the back with handicap ramp. We wanted to make sure the buidling was fully handicap accessible. That took a bit of research to make sure we’d be complaint, as far as ramps, restrooms. If we were to have programs on both floors, we needed to make sure we needed a small lift elevator inside.”
Community members submitted the proposal for a youth arts center to the Community Preservation Committee, asking for $250,000 to renovate the building.
The Committee swiftly approved plans for $230,000 for renovations, soon followed by Town Councilor approval at a meeting in early September.
Renovations will include classrooms, bathrooms, expanded parking, a ramp, and an internal lift to make the building completely handicapped accessible.
The plan is to continue to partner with Blue Hills Regional Vocational Technical School, where students will be able to perform most of the work as practical hands-on experience. All the town will need to supply is the materials. Other work will be performed by town employees, volunteers, or hired contractors
Though the original concept was for a children’s art program, Toland hopes to expand the use to the community at large.
“I believe it will probably be expanded into community programs, for adults in the evening,” Toland said.
A community garden will also be placed on the site, to be tended to via community programming.
The vision for the building is still evolving. Most likely, part time and volunteer staff the space will be operated the building through the Recreation Department.
“Our concept is maybe if instructors want to come in and rent the site then they would set up their own programs and then they would pay the center a certain amount of money for conducting their programs in there,” Toland said. “We wouldn’t be involved in the running of each program, it would go to an instructor. It seems to be the most successful way other communities have done this.”
The input from other communities, such as Hingham, Cohasset, Milton, and several Cape towns helped develop how the center will be run, and expansion plans are already within view.
“We’re hoping to expand our committee and have someone eventually be in charge of the building, as far as setting up programs and overseeing different vendors that want to come in and do classes,” Toland said. “We’ll see where it goes from there. We’re leaving it open.”
Though renovation funding is in place, much remains to be done. Toland said the community group has started approaching businesses, organizations, and citizens to get the word out about possible programming and volunteer opportunities.
A more definitive plan will start to take shape once the renovations are complete, Toland said.
“We’re hoping if the building is finished by the end of the year, we can start doing a bit more publicizing about it and plan for the spring,” Toland said.
The idea has seen wide community support, and town officials are wholeheartedly on board.
“I am excited about converting this unused property into a vibrant community center for families to enjoy,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said in a letter to the Town Council. Sullivan’s wife, Barbara Sullivan, was also behind the CPC application.
“It fills a niche for kids that may have interests other than sports, or just have an interest in the arts or crafts,” agreed Peter Morin, chief of staff and operations for the town. “It’s going to provide something that outside of school isn’t currently widely available in Braintree. It enhances the options that are available to community youth.”