Gearing up to save The Grange

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The 179 year-old Grange Hall on Sound Avenue in Northville is in serious need of repair.

The Northville community hall known as The Grange, which could need up to $150,000 in repairs, might soon get a boost from a local environmental education group  that has offered to host organic farming lectures there in order to help raise donations for the cause.

Jeff Frank of The Nature Lyceum said Tuesday his organization hopes to sponsor a series of ongoing free lectures at The Grange on organic living, gardening and cooking that would be offered free of charge, with a free will donation going to the upkeep of the hall.

Such classes, he said, would both honor the building’s history as a meeting place for farmers, but also help people learn cutting-edge ideas about stewardship of the earth.

The group has not yet set a schedule for the lecture series.

“We call it off-off-Broadway organic improv,” Mr. Frank said of the lecture series, which the Westhampton-based organization has offered throughout the Northeast. “We could start next week. It’s for the whole community. We don’t need anything.”

The hall, where members of the National Grange met in the early 20th Century to discuss farming, has also served as a school and as the original sanctuary of the First Parish Church since it was built in 1831.

It is owned by the First Parish Church, whose pastor, Dianne Rodriguez, called a Jan. 11meeting of local congregational churches and also invited members of the public who have an interest in seeing the historic hall preserved.

About 10 people showed to the meeting, which was held at the nondescript white building as a winter storm was approaching, at which members of other churches shared their experiences on the fundraising front. Although the pastor explained that renting the space and applying for grants may be the preferred option, since the congregation — about two dozen in all — has such limited resources.

Pastor Rodriguez estimates the hall needs between $100,000 and $150,000 in repairs to enable the community to use it for group dinners and other large-scale events. The final price tag depends much on whether the sagging floor in the upstairs community room will need major structural work.

The hall is currently used as a homeless shelter for Maureen’s Haven on Monday nights and as a site for lectures by The Nature Lyceum. It also serves as a meeting hall for a support group and quilters group.

In December, spurred by the need for a fire marshal inspection to continue using the hall for the homeless shelter, Pastor Rodriguez began soliciting help from the community to restore the building.

Though the hall passed inspection, it still needs to be better insulated and a commercial stove donated to the church cannot be installed until the church builds a fire suppression system that will likely cost between $15,000 and $20,000, he said.

Pastor Rodriguez has been working with an engineer, John Condon of Mattituck, who is preparing a list of the building’s needs, and with contractor Kevin Stakey who is scheduled to examine the joists on the second story this week to determine whether the floor is structurally sound.

If the entire floor needs to be restored, said Pastor Rodriguez, the work could cost as much as $40,000, but if the damage is minor, repairs could be as little as $2,000 to $3,000.

Currently, there are pews, a stage, an organ and a piano on the second floor, but Pastor Rodriguez said a dance studio would like to rent the space. Mr. Stakey has offered to fix the floor before the dance studio starts holding practices there, allowing the church to pay back the loan with the rent money from the studio.

Pastor Rodriguez is now looking for community members with knowledge of both The Grange and the process of landmarking public buildings, since the historic building is a natural candidate for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. If it were included, she said, it would be eligible for many preservation grants. But to do so, her small congregation needs help from the community at large.

Pastor Rodriguez cited the parable of a deaf frog, who fell into a pit so deep that all the other frogs who didn’t fall kept yelling down at the frog to stop trying to jump out of the hole, saying he was going to die. The deaf frog didn’t hear the other frogs, and kept jumping until he leapt out of the hole.

That kind of faith, she said, would be needed if the congregation was to go forward with their plans to revitalize The Grange.

“We need angels,” said Mr. Frank.

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