Arlington submits grant application for church project study

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ARLINGTON — The town of Arlington has submitted an application that seeks state funding to explore the feasibility of converting the former St. Margaret Mary Church property on Route 7A to a multi-use community center.

The Select Board authorized the application's submittal to the Vermont Community Development Program earlier this month. The town will find out after Nov. 7 if it has won the grant, according to a town administrative assistant.

A draft of the grant application suggests the midcentury, 275-plus-seat church could be "retrofitted into a theater" available for concerts and special events. A separate, one-story "Parish Hall" behind the church could become a fitness center with squash courts, and a three-story, Colonial Revival house that once served as a rectory could become "a tourism center with exhibit space" on the first floor and office space above.

The effort to pursue the estimated $60,000 state grant was advanced by an array of local stakeholders, including former Vermont State Police Col. James Baker of the Arlington Area Renewal Project. The town will serve as the administrator of the grant funds, if awarded.

The Arlington Community Arts and Wellness Center, which the draft proposal calls the envisioned hub's "working title," would address a variety of communal needs related to physical fitness, after-school and summer programming for teenagers, economic development and more, according to the application.

An existing nonprofit organization, the Arlington Arts and Enrichment Program, "will act as the 'umbrella' entity for the Center," the application states.

Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester owns the vacant property and, according to what grant writer Bebe Bullock told the Arlington Select Board at a meeting earlier this month, it has agreed to give people involved with the grant access to the property to complete the study.

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Vermont Community Development Program staff told Bullock that it was not necessary to own the property in order to obtain the grant, she said.

Retired banker Roger Cooper had held a contract to purchase the property, but Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester announced in August that the contract was "no more."

The grant, if awarded, would not necessarily be tied to the former church property, Bullock said. If the parcel were sold amid the planning process to a party not aligned with the community's vision, she said, ideas and plans for the hub could be shifted to other locations in town.

The draft application says planning work associated with the grant would include multiple steering committee, focus group and community-wide meetings "to update concepts and incorporate new ideas from stakeholders."

In addition to a market or feasibility study related to ideas for the property, work products resulting from the grant would include a final project construction budget, various environmental reviews and a report on costs associated with decommissioning the church, according to the application.

This article has been corrected to reflect that Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester owns the former church property.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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