It may not seem an extravagant sum, but the $2,750 Technical Assistance Grant awarded Tuesday to Historic Fort Plain Inc. will fund some significant work.
Since the Universalist church building on Center Street was threatened with demolition last year, a group of villagers have been working to transform the century-old hulk into an arts center. Several months ago, the group secured its 501c3 non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service; now it has landed its first significant government grant.
The grant comes from the New York State Council on the Arts by way of The Preservation League. It’s a relatively new grant program designed to help finance small-time structural repairs on the state’s historic buildings.
“We envision a beautiful, historic space that will serve the people of western Montgomery County in many ways: as a concert hall, theater space, fine arts gallery space, educational center with classroom and workshop facilities, and more,” Historic Fort Plain Treasurer Tolga Morawski said in a statement. “We also hope to open a small cafe or coffeehouse and create a space for special events such as weddings and graduations.”
There’s a lot to be done to make the dream a reality, and the grant won’t come close to paying for it all, but it will start the process. The money will be used to hire Crawford & Stearns, a preservation architecture firm based in Syracuse, to conduct a detailed condition survey.
The church was empty for years before the recent rescue attempt. Such a large structure takes regular upkeep. It’s currently stable, but after years of misuse, there are most likely a few things that need to be fixed.
Crawford & Stearns will go over every inch of the building, cataloging problems and drafting a prioritized to-do list. According to Morawski, that report is necessary when applying for larger grants that could actually fund construction.
The Technical Assistance Grant might be new, but the application process is already competitive. In the most recent round, $14,338 was awarded to six projects in as many counties.
“We had four times as much money requested as money to give,” said Erin Tobin, The Preservation League’s regional director of technical and grant programs. “It was pretty competitive.”
She said Historic Fort Plain beat out many other applications based on a few factors.
“The church is just beautiful,” she said, adding that its history and prominence in the village make it a prime grant candidate.
More than that, the grant was won by village residents. She held up the whole village as an example of how to build a successful community, referencing the energy and resolve of Morawski and several others.
“The organization has really hit the ground running,” she said. “Fort Plain is blessed with people who care deeply.”
For more information on Historic Fort Plain, visit historicfortplain.com.