Royalston meeting will unveil Whitney Hall study

Whitney Hall in Royalston's South Village, constructed in 1905. It served as a school and event venue for many years. Currently, several municipal offices are located on the first floor, while the second floor is used for storage.

Whitney Hall in Royalston's South Village, constructed in 1905. It served as a school and event venue for many years. Currently, several municipal offices are located on the first floor, while the second floor is used for storage. FILE PHOTO/GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-26-2024 5:00 PM

ROYALSTON – The results of a months-long marketing study which could serve as a guide for the future of Whitney Hall will be unveiled at a public meeting this Thursday.

This meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Royalston Town Hall, will likely be the last in a series held to give residents a chance to air their hopes and concerns for the building which occupies a prominent spot overlooking the South Village. Last year, the town hired Keen Independent Research of Phoenix to undertake the study.

At a meeting last November, the results of a survey completed by about 60 residents revealed that most oppose continued use of the building for municipal offices or transforming it into a business incubator.

Respondents also said they don’t want to see the interior of Whitney Hall closed off to future use while, at the same time, desire to see the exterior maintained. Opinion was split on demolishing the building.

Many who responded to the survey said that they would prefer to see Whitney Hall purchased by a private organization or developer and that it be renovated into a place for community meetings and events.

Those who attended November’s meeting were told that Whitney Hall, constructed in 1905 to house classrooms on the first two floors and a large hall on the third floor, is in immediate need of repair. An assessment undertaken by Trahan Architects of New Orleans found that several supports need to be replaced. There is also a fair amount of water damage, and evidence of a long-ago fire was found on some of the building’s beams. The exterior was deemed to be in fair condition.

In addition, the building’s masonry is deteriorating, and improvements must be made to the drainage, plumbing and electric systems. Adding to the cost of any improvements is the need to make the building handicap accessible. That would include the installation of an elevator and accessible bathrooms. Work must also be done on the HVAC system.

Keen Associates Principal Alex Keen told November’s meeting, “It’s not going to fall down tomorrow, but it’s certainly not what we had hoped for. There’s a lot of wear and tear on the building.”

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According to Keen’s initial estimates, renovations to the building could range from $4.6 to $16.3 million, depending on what is done. In 2018, the town’s Building Committee estimated that transforming Whitney Hall into eight housing units would cost close to $4 million.

Royalston’s South Village has been hit hard in recent years by the loss of the popular Pete & Henry’s restauran in 2018, the closure of the King Street Bridge to both vehicular and foot traffic, and last year’s closure of the Royalston Country Store—a popular meeting spot for Royalston residents and visitors.

But in recent months, town officials have started exploring the eventual re-opening of the King Street Bridge to hikers. A Rhode Island couple has purchased the Royalston Country Store, and a community park is being established on the site that once held Pete & Henry’s. Members of the Royalston South Village Revitalization Committee are hoping that re-use of Whitney Hall will help to reinvigorate the community.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.