By Chris Paul
Over the past 12-years the 250-year-old First Parish Meetinghouse in East Derry has been the site of an extensive restoration project, and last week, town officials from Londonderry were invited to review ways that project may help in their plans to restore the Meetinghouse in Londonderry, better known as the Lions Hall.
Town Manager, Mike Malaguti, and Department of Public Works Director, Dave Wholley, visited First Parish Congregational Church on Friday afternoon, July 21, and were given a thorough overview of the work done on the historic meetinghouse by Paul Lindemann, who has been the leader of a team raising funds and overseeing the restoration project at the Meetinghouse.
Londonderry Historical Society Curator, Ann Chiampa, arranged the meeting to give Malaguti and Wholley some first-hand knowledge of what’s involved in historic restoration. Also attending the presentation was local historian, David Ellis.
The purpose of the meeting was to give Malaguti and Wholley an idea of what avenues First Parish took for funding and how much it took to restore a building that is of the same age as the Meetinghouse in Londonderry.
The Londonderry building, which is the same age as the East Derry Parish Meetinghouse, will be treated much differently, mainly because the restoration will be on a town-owned building and the size and scope of the project is much smaller.
To date, the East Derry project has cost over $2 million, with much of that funding going toward the steeple restoration, which needed to be almost completely rebuilt. The remainder of the funds have been spent largely on the exterior and stabilizing the building with a new foundation. There was also a substantial amount of money spent on a small building connecting the meetinghouse to a classroom addition that was constructed in 1975.
At the start of the meeting, Wholley said that Londonderry is looking to keep the former Lions Hall project to maintain the look of the same era, but have a happy middle ground on restoration. “Which is a Challenge,” he said.
Lindemann, who is also the Vice-Chair of the Heritage Commission in Derry, started his tour on Friday with a presentation on what has been accomplished so far, where the funds came from, and what is planned for the future.
He explained that much of the money raised for the project came from parishioner donations as well a public funding. The group also applied for a number of LCHIP (N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) grants, winning four of them.
Lindemann told the group that every rehab project needs to start with a formal document called a Historic Assessment by a historic architect that created a comprehensive plan, which aided in the route to take in the restoration.
He also mentioned there are a lot of tax credits available for municipal restoration projects, although being a privately owned building, his group wasn’t able to take advantage of those. There are also grants available in the state for grants that will help in planning.
After the meeting, the group was given a tour of the building. The interior still has a ways to go, and Lindemann felt the church would need about another million dollars to be finished.