Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
$3.1M to transform kindergarten building into arts center

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
October 6, 2007

VERNON - Transforming the old kindergarten building into a cultural arts center will take about a year from start to finish and cost roughly $3.1 million according to architects hired to perform a feasibility study.

Jim Michaud / Journal Inquirer
Plans are in the works to transform the old kindergarten building at 709 Hartford Turnpike in Vernon into a cultural arts center.

The study, which was conducted by Schoenhardt Associates of Simsbury and funded with a $16,000 state grant, was released last week.

In its report, Schoenhardt stated that the circa 1920s property had significant historical and architectural value, and that cultural programs matched well with the existing building space and site.

"The building is of sound construction, is well maintained, and should be renovated as soon as possible to prevent if from further deterioration," the study concludes.

Located at 709 Hartford Turnpike on the corner of Center Road next door to the police station, the white clapboard Greek revival style building was constructed in 1927 to serve as a school for poor and homeless youth in Tolland County.

Features and amenities for the new center could include a multi-purpose performance space with a stage or dais and theatrical lighting, gallery spaces for permanent, temporary, or traveling art exhibits, meeting rooms, classrooms, an administrative office, pantry, and storage space, the report says.

"The acoustical qualities of the attic make it a good potential space for chamber music and lectures," the report states. "The size and quality of the lower level and main level rooms would easily accommodate the proposed cultural programs."

Slight modifications to the 7,125-square-foot building would be needed to make the structure handicap accessible, however.

Architects recommend constructing a small stair tower on the east side of the building, and a larger addition on the north side for a stair, elevator, restrooms, and storage, for a total of 2,131 additional square feet.

The building also would have to be brought up to code. The entire mechanical and electrical system would need to be replaced, ventilation added, and floor framing reinforced.

The study anticipates the cost, in 2007 dollars, to total $3,110,310. And if design work was started now, construction could be completed by November 2008.

The town acquired the building from the county in the 1950s when the indigent students were integrated into the public school system. For many years Vernon kindergarten classes were held there, hence its name today. The town also briefly held adult education classes in the structure after kindergarten moved to neighborhood schools, but for many years it has remained vacant.

Town officials and the local Historic Properties Commission have worked for years to see this project realized.

The commission submitted its own report last year and has approval from the state's Commission on Culture and Tourism.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer says a committee meeting is scheduled for this month to discuss fundraising and applying for nonprofit status.

Marmer says construction would be funded entirely with state grants and private donations and the arts center could be up and running within four to five years.

She envisions a space for concerts and theatrical productions for small groups, lecture halls and committee meeting rooms for community functions, exhibit and storage space for the historical society, and a home for the Vernon Arts Commission.

Large-scale theatrical productions and concerts could be held in the Senior Center, or the 900-seat auditorium now under construction at Rockville High School.

As for a cultural and arts center, Vernon is lacking in this area, Marmer said.

"I'm very excited. Tolland has an arts center on their green and this would really round things out in this area," Marmer said. "The Vernon Arts Council puts on occasional small shows and exhibits and they're very excited about having a place to call their own."

©Journal Inquirer 2007