Grant will fund assessment of Cumberland Town Hall

Grant will fund assessment of Cumberland Town Hall

CUMBERLAND – As officials wait to hear if Cumberland Town Hall will be named to the National Register of Historic Places, they’re taking the first steps to make possible renovations to the building, saying there are no plans to move municipal offices elsewhere in town.

With a pending $10,000 Certified Local Government grant from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the town plans to hire an architect with expertise in historic preservation to complete a conditions assessment of the building, Jonathan Stevens, director of Planning and Community Development, told The Valley Breeze.

The assessment will include a statement of outstanding issues that need immediate attention and recommendations for restoration opportunities that could be done in the future, said Stevens, whose department wrote the grant on behalf of the town of Cumberland.

“We’re very happy,” he said about the award, the third CLG grant the town has received since 2017. “It’s very competitive.”

This year’s grant builds upon a $10,000 grant received in 2018 to nominate the Cumberland Town Hall Historic District, which includes Town Hall at 45 Broad St. and the former Valley Falls Post Office building next door at 16 Mill St., for the National Register of Historic Places.

RIHPHC is scheduled to vote on forwarding a favorable recommendation to the National Park Service at its June 3 meeting, Stevens said, adding that it’s “highly likely” it will be approved.

“(This year’s) application was well-supported among the staff when we reviewed it,” said Jeffrey Emidy, deputy director of RIHPHC.
“We knew that Cumberland Town Hall is an important building,” Emidy, who previously resided in Cumberland and served on the Historic District Commission, told The Breeze, adding that it’s “a preservation priority in the town.”

While there has been talk in the past about possibly moving Town Hall to a more central location, Mayor Jeff Mutter told The Breeze that’s “not on my radar.”
“Finding a location … that wouldn’t make my top 10 right now,” he said, adding that his biggest priority is the town budget.

The focus will instead be on restoring the current three-story Colonial Revival-style brick structure, which was designed by William R. Walker & Son architectural firm and built in 1894.

“There’s a lot of historical significance to this building,” Mutter said. “It’s a reason to come down to the valley … There’s a lot of charm to the building.”

“We’re hoping the building is in sound condition,” Stevens said.

The wooden clock tower, which hasn’t been painted in at least 20 or 30 years, is one priority, he said, adding that testing should be done to determine its structural integrity.

“The clock tower is a very special space,” he said.

Stevens said that improvements could be made to the interior of the building. There may be opportunities to replace windows with some that are more architecturally sympathetic and energy efficient, he said.

Mutter said he’s sure there are some efficiency and maintenance-type issues “with a building this old” and said that renovating it “for more office space wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

The human resources department, for example, is in a “very, very tiny space and there are other areas where it’s a little congested.”

“Overall, I don’t think things are that bad,” the mayor said. “I don’t have any big concerns about the building.”

Town Hall was the first purpose-built municipal building to be constructed in Cumberland, according to its National Register of Historic Places application.

The building’s uses have varied over time, Stevens said. Jail cells in the basement are a reminder that it housed the police department in the past. The town library was also once in the building.

“The interior space has been subdivided in interesting ways,” he said.

Some historic interior features are still in place, including the curved main stairway inside the northwest corner tower, according to the application.

The building currently houses municipal offices in the basement and on the first and second floors.

This year, eight towns applied for 10 projects through the CLG program, and seven grants, totaling approximately $60,000, were awarded, Emidy said.

Recipients were announced last week, but Emidy said the commission is still waiting for funds from the federal government. Towns can begin prep work but can’t begin their projects until funds arrive and they sign agreements. Projects must be completed by Sept. 30, 2020, he said.

For anyone wishing to learn more about the history of the building, Sarah King, administrative assistant to the mayor, gives a monthly tour, the next two on Wednesdays, May 22 and June 19, at 3:30 p.m. No registration is required; just meet King in the mayor’s office.