The Plainfield Town Hall Opera House Renovation project eliminated the structural deficits and mold condition that required the Town to close its historic Town Meeting and performing arts space to the public. It also accomplished work needed to restore and preserve its historic features, and to provide for the building’s functionality and sustainable use. As a result of this effort, which began when the building was shuttered in 2011 and concluded in 2017, the people of Plainfield not only have a spacious, attractive, comfortable place for civic meetings that is ADA-compliant, but an active, affordable venue for cultural programs and community gatherings.
Plainfield’s Town Hall Opera House is a Greek Revival-style building constructed in 1841 and located on US 2, a major East/West US highway. It is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and is within a village historic district. Originally a Universalist Church, the building was converted into an Opera House in 1911 and given to the Town.
When the building was closed, there was no reserve fund for repairs. Though not rich in revenue, Plainfield is rich in civic engagement: it succeeded in meeting this challenge through the sustained efforts of elected officials and community volunteers.
A Town Hall Advisory Committee was charged with evaluating town meeting space options. In addition, a town-wide survey was conducted which found widespread public support for restoration. However, many reported feeling unsafe crossing US Rt. 2 to get to the Town Hall, and also that the Town Hall parking lot was too small. These results not only energized those who favored the restoration of the building; they inspired a determined effort to improve pedestrian safety crossing Route 2 and increase the size of the Town Hall’s parking lot.
In 2012, after voters at Town Meeting decided to proceed, a “Town Hall Revitalization Committee” was established. This group identified sources of grant funding, prepared grant applications, organized a fund drive, and kept the community informed of the progress of the project.
The final cost of $295,000 was paid through a combination of grant awards, private donations, and town funds. The Preservation Trust of Vermont provided both technical assistance and grant funding for this project. Major grant awards were received from State of Vermont Division for Historic Preservation ($40,000), the Vermont Arts Council ($28,000), Efficiency Vermont ($10,000) and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board ($71,000). The Town Hall Restoration Fund drive netted $75,000. Town taxpayers contributed $70,000. The building is now fully restored and busy.