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Historic building needs help; Mechanics Hall listed as endangered.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

PRINCETON - When Alex Fiandaca was looking for a home in Princeton in 1998, she remembers driving by the deserted Mechanics Hall in East Princeton and being struck by the building.

The Greek Revival 1852 structure was Princeton's first municipal building, used at its inception as a schoolhouse.

"I thought, there's something special about this area," she recalls.

Ms. Fiandaca is not the only one who thinks so. The building that for more than a hundred years served the town of Princeton has been listed among Massachusetts' most endangered historic resources.

The building was abandoned in the 1980s and since then has suffered damage from weather and disuse: Water infiltration and vandalism, structural issues and faulty wiring have all taken their toll.

"The paint is in bad shape, but the few preservation specialists we've consulted so far have been pleasantly surprised," Ms. Fiandaca said. "There are a couple of areas where there's been softening of some of the timbers from water runoff, because the old gutters are broken."

But the decay of this landmark on a busy roadway didn't go unnoticed, and efforts to find out what should be done were undertaken. A 2004 survey found that it wasn't just architectural or history buffs who wanted it restored. The survey found that 97 percent of Princeton residents wanted to see the decay halted and the building brought back into use.

And there is plenty of space to use.

On the first floor, there are two large rooms and a smaller one, as well as two bathrooms; on the second floor is a large hall with a stage and a small kitchen at the rear, like many of the old town halls of the period in New England.

Ms. Fiandaca said those who want to see the building preserved are reaching out to other towns in which similar restoration projects have been undertaken.

There are hundreds of vacant and decaying properties like Mechanics Hall across the state, and it isn't just the neighbors who want to see something good happen to them.

Since 1993, Preservation Massachusetts has been listing historic properties that need a spotlight focused on them to prevent deterioration from turning into demolition. Of 140 historic sites designated in those 19 years, only 20 have been lost.

Ms. Fiandaca and a group of Princeton residents hope that this designation will help save their precious building from joining the lost. The Friends of Mechanics Hall was formed in March to do just that by attempting to stop further deterioration and come up with a plan for the building's future.

"There's no shortage of ideas, but what we need to do is find something that the community will support and that will sustain the building," she said.

The group is putting together an outreach plan and making plans to stabilize the building, and hoping that the Preservation Massachusetts designation will help with getting grants to restore the building once a plan is finished.

"We are aware of other towns that were awarded grants soon after their listing," Ms. Fiandaca said.

The designation will also put concerned Princeton citizens in touch with the preservation community, she said, and give the group a forum for educating the public.

While possible historic preservation grants will help, the Friends are aware that they are only part of the funding that will be needed. They've begun taking part in local fundraisers to help out, participating in the recent townwide yard sale, and will be conducting a Celebrate Mechanics Hall fundraiser at Sonoma restaurant, 206 Worcester Road,from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 15.



CUTLINE: Mechanics Hall in East Princeton is in need of serious repairs.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Oct 26, 2012
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