Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Historic status for old kindergarten building up for debate

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
October 19, 2006

VERNON - The historic status of the former kindergarten building on Hartford Turnpike will be discussed at a public hearing scheduled for next month.

The Town Council will have a public hearing on Nov. 21 at 7:35 p.m. in the town's senior center to discuss the status of the building, which town officials hope can be transformed into a cultural attraction for the town.

On Tuesday, the town's Local Historic Properties Commission submitted a report to the Town Council outlining the building's historical characteristics. The report is a product of months of work by the commission, which has already received approval of the study from the state's Commission on Culture and Tourism.

The building, which was constructed during the 1920s, sits on a town-owned parcel on the corner of Hartford Turnpike and Center Road, which also contains the police department, new public safety building, and Center Road School.

The town has already hired an architect to look at possible uses for the old building, which originally served as a school for poor and homeless youth in Tolland County until the town acquired the structure during the 1950s.

Using a $16,000 state grant, the architect, Schoenhardt Associates of Simsbury, has been asked to look at the cost of renovating the structure.

Officials have floated the idea of transforming the building into a workspace for artists, storage space, or a display space for artistic or historic exhibits.

Local Historic Properties Commission Chairman Robert B. Hurd said the historic designation would make the building eligible for grant funding, which could be used for future rehabilitation projects.

"It gives you another source of revenue for preserving the building and putting it to constructive use," Hurd said today.

The study, which contains several pictures of the building's interiors, contains a narrative history of the building, including newspaper accounts of the structure's construction.

"According to a neighbor, the fine new county home school was the envy of the entire neighborhood where the children of the surrounding farmers still attended one-room schoolhouses," the report states. "The auditorium with its small stage was an especially attractive feature, and to be invited to the school for a performance of any kind was a rare treat."

Many of the building's original architectural features remain, including paneled doors, wainscot, and chalkboards.

After World War II and the construction of the Wilbur Cross highway - now Interstate 84 - through town, Vernon's school system became overwhelmed and the old school building was used as a stopgap option until a new school building could be constructed, according to the report.

The town later purchased the building from the county and used it to house local kindergarten students, but as new school building's opened locally, the structure was no longer needed as a primary classroom space.

After the departure of the kindergarten students in the mid-1970s, adult education classes were held in the building until the early 1990s.

Since that time, the building has largely sat vacant and has been used as storage space.

Although the building is relatively young in age compared to other New England landmarks, Hurd said the structure's age and its connection to the now-defunct county system of government gives it historic credibility.

Speaking to potential renovations and the addition of parking areas, Hurd told the Town Council Tuesday that the building's front lawn and the side lawn adjacent to Center Road should remain in tact to preserve the character of the structure.

©Journal Inquirer 2006