About Town: Promises Kept with Cary Hall

Cary Memorial Hall Needs TLC and a $7.7 million update plan is expected to come before Town Meeting in 2013.

Our gorgeous is so authentic it’s outdated.

Yes, unfortunately it’s true – and there is a 305-page report to support that fact. (It's posted to the right for your viewing pleasure.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the Sept. 20 public hearing on the Cary Memorial Building, done by the Cary Memorial Building Study group, which includes Facilities Director Pat Goddard, Donald Mills from Mills Whitaker Architects and Lexington resident and Historic Preservation Architect Wendall Kalsow.

Cary Memorial is nestled between the Town Offices and the Lexington Police Station.

Late for the meeting, I took the exterior granite stairs two at a time and grabbed the big wooden double door at the far right. Locked. They are always locked. Someday, I’ll remember and go for the open middle door…

Once through I hit the foyer. Like the it seeps history from every stone corner. Marble statues stand guard at the left and right of the big hall. The Dawn of Liberty graces the limestone foyer wall. The Ellen Stone room is hidden on the far left beyond the stairs to the balcony.

Oval stones etched with goldleaf hang all over the first floor and tell us of Isaac Harris Cary and other pieces of history. One wonders what else we’d see if we weren’t chatting or rushing to a meeting.

Walking inside always feels as if one is on hallowed ground. On Sept. 20, I sat in the audience and listened to Don, Wendall and Pat talk about the building, but was transfixed by the gorgeous cream and mauve ceiling, the balcony chairs (circa 1926), the intricately carved wall molding and the dark wood panels throughout the building.   

Unfortunately, underneath all that beauty it’s kind of a hot mess that needs a little redemption.  

“It’s a wonderful building,” Pat said. "[But] many of the systems are original from 1926 design and don’t meet the needs of the current residents.”

First the heating and ventilation, or HVAC, system is straight from the roaring 20s. And when I say roaring, I truly mean that. The 1926 system is so loud it’s turned off during meetings, lectures, trivia bees and concerts.

Without the flow of air – even from a 1926 machine – it can get pretty stuffy. Yes, we could leave it on, but then we’d have to borrow bullhorns from the police station.  

Lighting is inadequate, the mens and womens rooms are outdated and small.

The list goes on and on and I suggest you read the report -- all 305 pages of it.

Yes, the town has been making small updates and repairs over the years, but they are make-do patches and the working innards need an overhaul.

No, no one is going to change the ceiling or the seats, which, although small, will remain. As will the wood and the statues and everything else that makes it Cary Hall.

But the bathrooms, among other pieces of the building, need total renovation.

Two stone water fountains that no longer work will be fixed. The building will become accessible to everyone, making it ADA complaint.

When Cary sisters Eliza Cary Farnham and Susanna E. Cary gave this building to Lexington, they made officials promise we’d care for it forever – and not with piece meal quick fixes.

We know this because our Town Clerk, while giving a tour of the downstairs room now used for storage, found the 1925 Isaac Harris Cary Educational Fund report, the 1926 architectural plans and the 1927 speech by Educational Fund President Robert Clapp. You’ll find that about 150 pages into the PDF.

So, the bottom line – and yes, I know you probably wanted this up front – is a four-phase renovation project with a $7.7 million price tag.

The cost comes with assistance and insurance we voted into effect in 2006. As a historic building we’re eligible for Community Preservation Act funds to offset the cost.  

And yes, I know we have ongoing school projects. So does Pat and everyone else in town.

“We realize there are many project competing for available funds, but this is part of the planning process, to show the things that need to be done and prioritize through the annual budgeting process,” Pat explained.

The school projects aren’t eligible for CPA funds, but this one is.

The next step, Pat said, is “asking for input from other committees.”

The Cary Memorial Building group will file a request with the Capital Expenditures Committee and from there go into the planning process, which will include a host of other committees – including the Community Preservation Committeee.  

“We’re submitting it right now for the annual Town Meeting of 2013,” Pat said.


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