Royalston residents weigh in on future of Whitney, Raymond buildings

  • The former Raymond School in Royalston built in 1939. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • Whitney Hall in Royalston's South Village was 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. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For Athol Daily News
Published: 10/15/2021 3:34:26 PM
Modified: 10/15/2021 3:34:36 PM

ROYALSTON — Some three dozen people showed up at Town Hall to provide Royalston officials with a range of views on what should happen to the former Raymond School and Whitney Hall.

Before discussion turned on Oct. 8 to the fate of those two buildings, however, Selectboard and Building Committee member Roland Hamel updated attendees on the state of a number of town-owned structures — from hearse houses to the public safety building and the library — and the likely cost of repairs needed to the entire inventory.

Whitney Hall was constructed as a school and meeting place in 1905, while the Raymond School was built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration.

In an opening statement to the gathering, Selectboard Chair Deb D’Amico said, “The purpose of this is to give us an opportunity to share information with all of you about the town buildings and, in particular, the need we have as a town to provide our boards and our committees with safe, clean, efficient meeting spaces — office spaces.

“Equally important is that we hear from you, our public, your ideas, your concerns, your questions regarding our buildings in general and, in particular, Whitney Hall. We know there are a lot of people with questions about Whitney. We may not have answers, but we really want to hear from you.”

Currently, plans call for eventually transferring municipal offices from Whitney Hall to the former Raymond School, where renovations are already under way.

Resident Allen Young said, “I have some pretty clear ideas of what should happen, and I don’t think they’ll make me popular with some people.”

Young then opined that Whitney Hall should be placed on the market and offered for sale.

“I don’t believe the town has a need for it,” Young said. “I think Raymond School will serve the town offices. Whitney Hall has great sentimental value to a lot of people. I understand that, I empathize with that.”

He went on to say that a local real estate agent had expressed to him her confidence that the building could be sold for use as a bed and breakfast or inn, as well as for other purposes.

“I think it would be a mistake and a disservice to the taxpayers of the town to continue to own Whitney Hall,” Young concluded.

“I agree it may make more sense to the repairs to the Raymond School,” said Kate Collins. “At the same time, I feel like we as a town have a responsibility to Whitney Hall. Whitney Hall was not just a school. It was a gathering place.

“It’s a unique architecture and I disagree with the logic that because it will be expensive to insure, that we should tear it down. We have a responsibility for maintaining it, and it hasn’t been maintained like it should have been. I think we have to step up to that responsibility.”

Building Committee Chair Jim Barclay said the committee is on record as favoring renovation of the Raymond School into town offices due, in part, to the lack of space at Whitney.

“We are required to have offices for certain people,” he said. “We are required to have the same kinds of services the city of Boston does. We have to do it the same way.”

He reminded that records of some committees and offices are being stored in private homes, rather than in a public building.

“You can’t have things in your home like this. You just can’t do that, he said.”

“We want to see (Whitney) get painted,” said Nancy Monette, of the Royalston South Village Revitalization Committee. “It’s only going to sit there and rot if it isn’t. And there’s a roof that needs to be repaired. We’d like to see that happen as well so we can stabilize the building.

“I feel that building is our responsibility and it’s been sitting there not being repaired, not being taken care of, and it’s time we took care of it.”

Hamel pointed out that the south side of Whitney’s roof is in fact slated for repair this fall.

“How much more money can we put into this building with our right minds,” said Donna Caisse, “knowing that we are putting money into something that’s a money pit. It is a money pit.

“And I do love this building, but I’m being realistic.”

Estimates for renovating Whitney Hall into usable office space has been estimated to be as high as $5.2 million. Work at the Raymond School began last year with asbestos abatement, including a new roof to replace the old asbestos shingles. Several different grants have been used to replace the original heating system, install new insulation, and transform the old classrooms into new office space. The cost to finish the project is estimated at around $1.7 million.

D’Amico assured attendees that town officials would take everyone’s comments into consideration as they work to hammer out a plan for the Raymond and Whitney buildings, as well as other town-owned buildings.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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