Orange talks former Butterfield School’s future

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange.

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange.

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange.

The former Butterfield School at 97 South Main St. in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 09-29-2023 5:04 PM

ORANGE — Roughly 30 residents turned out to Town Hall this week to hear the municipality’s three proposals regarding future uses for the former Butterfield School.

Over the past year, Orange has worked closely with SSV Architects, a Boston-based firm that suggests converting the 94 South Main St. building into apartments, a senior center, or a facility that houses both a senior center and municipal offices.

“We’re an architectural firm that does a lot of preservation work and historic work as well as some traditional design work,” Gerald J. Sullivan, the firm’s principal, told attendees who gathered in the Ruth B. Smith Auditorium on Wednesday. “We try to restore or rehabilitate any buildings that we can, and there’s a lot that can be done here.”

Butterfield School — then the town’s third elementary school — was closed in 2015 to alleviate Orange’s financial woes. Its students were sent to Dexter Park Innovation School, which was built in the early 1950s and demolished in August as part of the Fisher Hill Elementary School restoration project.

Some people in attendance voiced their support for using the former school for housing, as that is considered a major need in Orange. Sullivan explained the building could fit a variety of units of different sizes on its first and second floors, and the main level could hold eight apartments.

“And then the lower part of the building would be primarily shared space,” he said.

Sullivan mentioned the building’s auditorium and gymnasium could remain as is and be repurposed later.

Turning the facility into a senior center was also a popular idea Wednesday, but Sullivan said its 40,000 square feet makes it significantly larger than any other senior center in Massachusetts, “even for very large towns.”

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This prompted those involved to consider having the building house a senior center as well as the town offices and some public functions. Sullivan said he does not yet have any cost estimates.

Combining a senior center with municipal offices could represent a perfect mix. Sullivan said there is an excellent space for the Council on Aging to use and the gym could be used for election polls. The building’s primary entrance is accessed from the parking lot in the back.

“You want it to have a very strong presence in the center of town,” Sullivan said. “But we are realistic in that most people would be parking on the side. So we are proposing, in all these schemes, an entrance coming from the parking lot to support the other entrances of the building, particularly the one in the front.”

Sullivan also mentioned the former school’s auditorium seats 500.

The town offices, once predominantly in the Orange Armory, have been based out of 62 Cheney St. since the town signed a lease agreement to operate out of the rectory of the former Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, which a handful of years ago gave its facilities to Mission Covenant Church for social and faith-based activities. The Selectboard voted in October 2021 to close the armory due to its poor conditions.

Walker Powell, Orange’s planning technician, stressed that all plans are in the conceptual stage only.

“We haven’t committed to anything yet,” she stressed. “These are just concepts that we’ve been talking about.”

Maureen Riendeau, representing the 175-year-old Orange Community Band, said the musicians use the former Butterfield School for storage and she hopes they will continue to be able to do so in the rehabilitated facility. Powell said she believes there is space to accommodate that.

Helene Holmes said she spent 39 years — more than half of her life — as a teacher at Butterfield School and she now serves on the Orange Recreation Commission, which used Butterfield’s basketball court until the program was forced to move to the former Dexter Park Innovation School. She said she hopes the court stays as it is.

She also said the auditorium is “acoustically perfect.”

“So the band being in the auditorium would be phenomenal,” Holmes commented.

Anthony Ludwig, who has lived in town since 2006, said it makes sense to use the building as a senior center, but he thinks housing would probably be a better long-term fit. Powell assured him the town is aware of the need for housing.

June Taylor took to the microphone with younger sister Amber Lunny to say she liked the ideas she heard, but she was curious to know what might happen to the memorial plaque on the site that was dedicated to their sister Sheila Lunny, who died in 1987.

“That’s our biggest concern,” Taylor said.

Powell thanked the sisters for bringing that to her attention and said there is no intention to greatly alter the landscape or to remove anything so sentimentally important to locals.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.