By Katy Savage
The defunct Bridgewater Village School is on schedule to reopen as a community center in 2021 with the help of a recent $400,000 grant, closing in on a $1.2 million fundraising goal.
Bridgewater was one of 10 communities that received a federal Community Development Block Grant this month, with awards totaling $2.9 million statewide.
Local recipients included the Housing Trust of Rutland County, which received $498,000 to renovate the Immaculate Heart of Mary School into a 19-unit homeless shelter. The Castleton Free Library received $100,000 to install a new elevator and remove accessibility barriers at the entrance. The local grants total $1 million.
“Continuing to support the housing and infrastructure needs of our communities is just as important now as it was before the pandemic,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a press release. “This year, the program will have even greater impact by funding projects that help communities respond to the pandemic and prevent spread of the virus.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the grants make the state stronger.
“These investments create catalytic change where it is most needed, and Vermonters and their communities will be better for these projects,” Leahy said in the press release.
The Bridgewater Community Center was established in 2018 after Bridgewater Village School closed in 2016. It had about 40 students when it closed. The school merged with Pomfret Elementary in the newly-formed Prosper Valley School in Pomfret. The building is now owned by the town and is rented to the center for $1 a year.
The Bridgewater Community Center will host a childcare facility in addition to yoga classes and programs geared toward bettering the community.
“That was very large for us, we’re so close to our goal,” said Bridgewater Community Center Executive Director Melissa Spear.
The center has received $850,000 in grants so far. The money is going toward restoring the historic building, which dates back to 1914. Playground equipment is being replaced, a new bathroom is being installed as is new windows and new commercial kitchen appliances.
The community center is slated to open in June with 14 students in the childcare to start. Establishing the community center in Bridgewater has been a joint effort between the town and surrounding towns.
In addition to the childcare facility, the community center will be a satellite space for community theaters, like JAG Productions in White River Junction and BarnArts in Barnard. ArtisTree will hold art programs there, while the Thompson Senior Center, the Ottauquechee Health Foundation and Norman Williams Public Library, are also interested in bringing programs to Bridgewater. The space will also serve as an emergency shelter.
“There’s a need for childcare and all these services we hope to provide,” Spear said. “It’s so exciting, the possibilities are endless.”
Free wifi was made available earlier this month for use outside the building. Once open, there will be free computers to use inside.
The community center was supposed to open in 2019 but was delayed due to environmental hazard concerns stemming from an oil spill in 1991. About 900 gallons of oil spilled on the school property when a small kink was found in an underground storage tank, according to state documents. Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission recently funded the cost of extracting the oil tank.
There were also delays when Hank Smith, a local philanthropist who helped start the foundation, died in July.
Spear, who is currently the only employee of the Bridgewater Community Center, said she was determined to move the building forward.
“We’re not stopping, we’re not backing off, we’re still moving forward,” Spear said.