In 2006, the Town of Essex acquired the dilapidated Grange Hall for the sum of one dollar. Two years later in 2008, the town contracted with the Whallonsburg Civic Association, recently reincorporated as the Whallonsburg Grange Hall, to manage the Hall. Through a Memorandum of Understanding it charged the Civic Association with renovating the building, including raising the funds to do so and with managing it as a community center where people throughout the region could attend concerts, films, plays, lectures, and community events, as well as rent the Hall for modest fees. The Town of Essex agreed to support the Grange by covering heating and lighting costs and by providing occasional services such as plowing the parking lot – the same services it provides to all other town-owned properties. Ten years later, we are proud to report that we have fulfilled our responsibilities – and so much more!
Renovations: Over the last ten years the WGH has raised and invested over $200,000 to renovate and modernize the Grange and organized thousands of hours of volunteer labor, including:
Upstairs: Removed the drop ceiling and restored the main hall to its original glory; rebuilt the entrance hall and office area; installed two new restrooms; remodeled the balcony and installed safety railings; installed an emergency generator required for a Red Cross emergency shelter; installed acoustic panels to improve sound quality; replaced the uncomfortable wood seats with modern, upholstered chairs; purchased an HD projector, professional movie screen, and digital audio system; installed professional concert speakers and a soundboard; restored the historic painted stage curtain; renovated the stage, including state-of-the-art blackout curtains and theater lighting.
Downstairs: Rebuilt the kitchen and purchased equipment to meet Department of Health standards for certified commercial use; remodeled the space to create a multi-use community room and dining hall; installed a new restroom; painted the space; and installed a photo exhibit celebrating the history of the Grange, Whallonsburg and Essex.
General: Installed a new septic system; drilled a well; installed a modern water filtration system; rewired the building to code; purchased a security and fire alarm system; and installed energy-efficient air conditioners that also supplement the furnace to reduce energy consumption.
Exterior: Added a new standing-seam metal roof and repaired the slate roof; rebuilt the porch; purchased new exterior lighting; repainted the exterior of the building; installed a marque; landscaped the property; and installed exterior signage about the Grange and local agriculture.
Community Services: During Hurricane Irene local residents used the Grange as a shelter. After this experience a dedicated group of volunteers were trained by the Red Cross to operate the Grange as an official Red Cross Emergency Shelter.
Fundraising for our community: Grange volunteers raised and distributed $38,000 for Whallonsburg neighbors affected by Irene. We have provided space and support for fundraising benefits, including for the Staats family, Reber Rock Farm, and others. The Grange raises money every year at Christmas for the food banks in Willsboro, Westport, and Elizabethtown -- $1,200 last year. The Grange Volunteer Firefighters/EMT Appreciation Days showcase the work and equipment of the Essex, Whallonsburg, and Wadhams VFDs and raise funds for them.
Community events: The Boquet River Theater Festival children’s summer camp uses the Grange for one month every summer and presents sold-out shows every year. Hundreds of children have participated in this theater camp over the past ten years. Other community events include the weekly winter Play Gyms for families with young children, candidates’ nights and annual Election Night Dinners.
Community space: Families can rent the Grange for weddings, birthday parties, family reunions, and anniversaries for modest rates. We provide an affordable space for many local groups and organizations including Champlain Area Trails, the Garden Club, Cornell Cooperative Extension. We host classes and workshops for farmers and programs to discuss agricultural issues that affect the community. The Grange has partnered with Mountain Lakes PBS to hold programs where military veterans can meet and discuss their experiences. The certified commercial kitchen is a low-cost facility for value-added food production and catering of events.
Education and Entertainment: The Grange has become a cultural center for the entire region. Our well-attended programs improve the quality of life for the entire community, year-round and seasonal residents. Over the last ten years, we have put on hundreds of high-quality concerts, dances, movies, and plays, too many to list. The Lyceum lecture series has presented dozens of educational programs and has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its speakers. We also help publicize the town of Essex and the Champlain Valley as a destination through social media, event posters, e-newsletters, press releases, and other marketing efforts.
A Community-Based Organization: The Whallonsburg Grange Hall is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a dedicated volunteer board. Grange events are run by volunteers, who set up chairs, take tickets, run the soundboard and lighting, bake and sell refreshments, and do all the necessary behind-the-scenes work. Most of the renovation work was carried out by volunteer crews, including local contractors who donated their time.
Support from the Town: The Town of Essex makes an important contribution to the success of the Grange by paying for the heating and electric, and providing some other services. In addition the Town installed a new furnace to replace the 1950s era unit. The Grange has improved the energy efficiency of the building and we also now pay for the phone, insurance, propane, internet and building maintenance.
The Town’s support remains essential. The Grange operating budget is very tight and we rely on our successful partnership with the Town. Over the last three years the Town of Essex has paid around $4,000 per year on utilities. This is one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the Town budget, a small price for so many benefits to the community.
The WGH Board recognizes and appreciates the ongoing support of the Town for this extraordinary project. We hope that the Town Board continues to see it as a sound and affordable investment in maintaining and improving the community, now and in the future.
Statement presented to the Essex Town Board by
Andy Buchanan, WGH Vice-President
on behalf of the Whallonsburg Grange Hall Board
April 12, 2018