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Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS


The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance has named the Farley Building in Hollis as one of “Seven to Save.” According to the preservation group, the building has been vacant since 2005, but despite some leaks, it’s in solid condition.
Monday, February 20, 2012

Hollis panel has cheaper plan to preserve Farley Building

HOLLIS – Voters might balk at supporting a petition warrant article asking them to spend $200,000 to preserve the historic Farley Building for up to 15 years.

But how does $50,000 and a shorter time frame sound? That’s what David Sullivan, chairman of the town’s Heritage Commission and Farley Building Study Committee, plans to ask at the March 14 Town Meeting.

After the Board of Selectmen rejected the study committee’s request to support a warrant article to stabilize the building, Sullivan collected signatures for a petition warrant article for $200,000, Article 14, on the March ballot

By amending the article, Sullivan said at the Feb. 8 public hearing on the town’s proposed 2012 budget, he is hoping to garner support for a plan that would put the town’s first high school “on the front burner,” allowing him, and others, to research grants, explore fundraising opportunities, and seek other financial solutions to save the building that was once the focal point of the town’s center.

“It deserves more than what it has gotten over the last few years,” Sullivan said.

When the Farley Building Study Committee presented its findings to selectmen last fall, it recommended “mothballing” the Italianate-styled building and completing some structural repairs that would preserve the building for roughly 15 years, until voters agreed to raise funds to restore or rehabilitate it.

Selectmen rejected the proposal, citing the fragile economy, decreasing government revenues and direction from the town’s Budget Committee to keep next year’s spending flat.

Afterwards, Sullivan collected a total of 104 signatures from registered voters, 79 more than required by state law, to get a petition warrant article on the ballot.

“We made it clear that what they were supporting was allowing the process to take place, so the town could vote on it,” Sullivan said. “We told them it wasn’t necessary to have their support” for saving the building, he said.

At the recent public hearing on the budget, Sullivan said, “Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money right now, and a lot of people felt as I did, that rather than spend $200,000 to stabilize the building for a number of years, we should go after it more aggressively, stabilize it, get ventilation in and aggressively go after grants, attend workshops and come up with a plan sooner.”

The Farley Building, built with $10,000 that Hollis resident Mary Farley left in her will, was shuttered in 2005 after having served as a school for 127 years.

Mary Farley, who died in 1875, stipulated that the money be used to build a high school within two years of her death. Local historians point out that at the time, the School District was made up of 14 grammar schools, and officials believed that consolidation would save taxpayers money.

“Building a high school was thought to be a benefit to the town by providing a local high school education, raising educational standards and increasing property values,” wrote Jeanne Smith-Cripps in the January-February 2012 issue of the Hollis Historical Society newsletter.

Sullivan said that based on advice from preservation experts, it would cost between $35,000 and $45,000 to stabilize the building, and another $10,000 to pursue grants and develop a plan to bring the structure back.

“This is a learning process for me,” he said. “I’m fairly new at this.”

Sullivan said his appreciation for the Farley Building, and other historic buildings in town, stems from his childhood and family origins.

“I grew up in Lowell, Mass, where at one time, there were 20 to 25 movie theaters that are all gone now,” he said. “Lowell had historic mansions that have been torn town, a Civil War Gen. Benjamin Butler’s mansion. Once the structures are gone, they’re gone. They can’t be duplicated.”

Sullivan also believes that historic structures like the Farley Building pay tribute to those who came before him.

“My father came from Ireland, and my mother’s family has been here since the 1840s,” he said. “They gave up everything to settle here, and they were an important part of the community. I feel we owe it to the people who were here before us to keep things going.”

Research and reflection, Sullivan added, have deepened his understanding of the relationship between a community’s present and its past.

“There’s an inherent energy that was put into these buildings that you can’t replace,” he said.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or hbernstein@cabinet.com.