CHESHIRE — Its halls were once filled with the sounds of students; soon it will be filled with town business.
In its 100th anniversary year, the former Cheshire Elementary School building will become town hall, a change in venue celebrated by locals who have worked to save the building — a community mainstay that holds many memories.
“I went to school here, I met my wife here, my kids went here, my mother taught here, this has been a huge part of my life, and I’ve been blessed with a job where I get to take care of her,” said Facilities Manager Corey McGrath. “So I have a lot of compassion for this place.”
Cheshire employees will be moving into the building shortly after Sept. 1, when the school district’s lease ends, according to Town Administrator Jennifer Morse. Currently, the school is home to the superintendent’s office and a youth center. The school district will depart, but the youth center will remain, as it’s only in its third year of a 10-year contract. Town meetings are already being conducted in the former cafeteria space.
So why the move away from the existing town hall building? “There’s just not enough space there,” Morse said.
“Right now we have no space at all for the accountant. She’s got a couple filing cabinets that are locked up with a chain because there’s no office space,” Morse said. “Our cemetery offices are in a very small, probably 4-by-6 room, what I would call a broom closet, so there’s just no space at all anymore.”
Those who work at town hall also regularly don’t have enough room to park and for town visitors there’s often little to no space.
Moving out of town hall will create a domino effect of open space for other town entities. The Historical Commission will move into the town hall building, Board of Selectmen Chair Michelle Francesconi said. The Commission currently has a space above the cramped police station, but Francesconi said it’s not big enough for people to come in and view artifacts. At the moment, it’s a glorified storage area.
“Everybody will have more space over here, including the water department and building department,” Morse said.
With the Historical Commission out of the police station, town police can move into the second floor of its building. The library, which is connected to town hall, will be able to expand.
Morse said it cost $25,000 to put heat in part of the building, and during Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, members approved $4,000 for a change of use study to be conducted by EDM architecture, engineering & management out of Pittsfield. The town is looking to change the cafeteria’s use from educational to assembly. Last year, the town also set aside $92,000 for building repairs at the school in its Stabilization Fund. Morse said it would take a “yes” vote at a Town Meeting to be able to use those funds.
The original part of the building, which opened in 1922, will not be used due to a mold problem. Francesconi pointed to this as an example of what happens when you leave buildings empty.
Francesconi is looking forward to bringing town meetings back to the elementary school once it’s ready — town meetings currently take place at Hoosac Valley Middle & High School.
“The annual town meeting used to be held in the elementary school. Our elderly residents like the location because it was downtown,” Francesconi said. “When the change was made to move the town meetings to the high school, that created an uproar with a lot of the elderly in town. They were upset with the change and felt it was too remote a location.”
Town officials will be looking for input on renaming the school. They are leaning toward an homage to the original name: The Cheshire School and Community House. They want it to be called the Cheshire Community House. The plan is to mail all the residents of Cheshire independently for input.
Francesconi said “Community House” captures the feel of what will be the new set-up at the school, as the remaining nine classrooms will be occupied by the youth center. There is a pre-school and daycare program in the youth center space as well.
“I’m glad that you still get to hear the sounds and sometimes the silence of school with the youth center being here,” McGrath said.