Bellows Falls Garage building restoration project moving forward

Bellows Falls Garage building restoration construction projected to begin this fall. Photo by Joe Milliken
Bellows Falls Garage building restoration construction projected to begin this fall. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Earlier this year, the Brattleboro-based Windham Windsor Housing Trust had announced they were altering their plans to restore the former Bellows Falls Garage building located on Rockingham Street in the downtown area.

WWHT had purchased the building in 2020 from previous owner, Frank Hawkins, with plans to convert the abandoned building into 26 affordable housing apartment units, along with a shared community room, and a nonresidential commercial space on the street level. The cost of this restoration project is estimated at $9.9 million.

The latest question about the project had been whether the 100-plus-year-old building fit the criteria of being considered a “historic” structure, and when it was recently confirmed by state officials not to be in that category, WWHT was given the “okay” from the Rockingham Development Review Board to proceed with a new, altered design plan.

The design changes reflect the building not being deemed eligible for the national registry by Vermont’s Office of Historic Preservation. The determination was made after a commissioned report was submitted about the study and history of the building.

“The RDRB didn’t really play a part in the [non-historic] determination itself, but it did help inform them as to what zoning bylaws applied to our designs,” Elizabeth Bridgewater said in a recent interview. Bridgewater is the executive director of WWHT.

Despite the state’s decision, however, the recognizable “115 Rockingham Street” façade of the old building will be preserved, while the rest of the structure behind the façade will be demolished and rebuilt, after a couple necessary design changes.

“We will be restoring the front façade and the wing walls, so the front of the building will actually look more historic than our previous design, which called for wrapping insulation over the concrete and then siding it,” Bridgewater said.

“In this new design, the front façade will be completely restored. We had to remove the outdoor terrace [from the original plan] as to add an additional apartment and help increase cash flow. We will also be using a galvanized steel siding instead of a cement-based siding, and the south side of the building [adjacent to the Canal Street parking lot] will feature the second entrance instead of the back of the building.”

Construction will probably not start until the fall, while an environmental review is obtained from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as a state building construction permit.

“These design changes also triggered some state regulations that we are in the process of finalizing now,” Bridgewater added. “Once complete, we’ll go out to bid and, barring any drastic new pricing issues, we will start construction in the fall… We are finally almost there!”

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