Renovation plans for historic town buildings

Week of January 8 through 14, 2023

Renovation plans for historic town buildings

Looking forwards and back this week, one highlight was the Board of Selectmen meeting on Wednesday. Two major projects were discussed, both seeking to renovate historic buildings in our town center — the former Center School and the Old Firehouse. Let’s dig in!

Some history

As recounted in the book ‘Historic Woodbridge - An Historic and Architectural Resource Survey’ both buildings are part of the Woodbridge Green Historic District, which is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The ‘Historic Woodbridge’ 2nd edition, published in 2015.

According to the documentation submitted to the National Register, the district “encompasses the entire historic town center [and] consists of six major contributing institutional buildings arranged around the [church] Green, a contributing historic site, and two contributing domestic structures. Two of the four memorials or monuments also contribute to the historical character of the district.”

The WWII memorial photographed on Veterans Day 2009 — one of two monuments included in the Woodbridge Green Historic District.

Specifically the district includes: “Four church-owned properties, which include the Green itself, as well as the church, a parish house, and a parsonage, are all located on one large lot (4.9 acres) north of Meetinghouse Lane.”

The parish house and church, with the church green in the foreground, photographed in 2016.

The description in Historic Register documentation continues, “All the public institutional buildings are located to the west and south. Built between 1919 and 1940 and designed in the Colonial Revival style, they include the town hall, a former school (now a community center and police station), a library, and a firehouse.”

Historic photo circa 1951, courtesy of the Fire Association.
The Fire House and three fire trucks, photographed circa 1951-1952.

The building we refer to today as ‘the old fire house’ — and which may some day in the near future be known as ‘the Community & Cultural Center’ — was built and equipped in 1938.

As originally constructed, it only had space for two fire trucks, according to the write-up in the 2nd edition of the ‘Historic Woodbridge’ book published in 2015.

“In 1969 two more truck bays were added, along with additional space for Fire Association meetings, a bunk room and kitchen. In 1976, with 50 volunteers and 15 probationers, the firefighters needed more space and two additional truck bays were added at that time. A fire damaged the building in 2006 and construction of a new Fire Station was completed nearby in 2009. This building is being refurbished and planning is underway for it to be reopened for community use.”

The Old Fire House cupola under repair, summer 2010.
After repairs, which included a new copper roof to match the fire-damaged original.

The former Center School building — which is now home to the Town’s Human Services Department, Senior Center, the Center Gym, the Recreation Department’s Fitness Center, a local non-profit child care center, and the Police Department — was built in 1929.

The Center Building in its 90th year, photographed in March 2019.

Turning again to the pages of the 2nd edition of ‘Historic Woodbridge,’ we find an interesting account of the building’s use for educational purposes — and indeed a succinct rundown of the history of public school in Woodbridge.

“When it was built in 1929, this well-preserved Georgian Revival grammar school modernized and centralized the public educational system in Woodbridge. Except for the Warner School on Lucy Street, all the district schools closed at that time. Students attending high school went to New Haven on a tuition basis, an arrangement that had started in 1905. In 1952 a regional high school was proposed for Woodbridge, Bethany, and Orange and it was built in 1954 in Woodbridge on Newton Road. Within a few years the Amity Regional District built junior high schools in both Bethany and Orange and after 1963, Woodbridge students attended the school in Bethany. By the 1970s Center School, which was expanded after the Warner School closed in 1956, was no longer adequate to meet the demands of a growing school population and students in grades three through six were moved to Beecher Road School, which had been built in 1963 and was added on to several times since then. At first Center School continued to be used for K-2, but in 1977 all students were shifted to Beecher Road School, and this building was converted to community center use.”

As these two stalwart municipal buildings continue to gracefully age in our Town’s center, further investments to modernize and improve are under consideration. Let’s shift to the present for a look at the state of planning.

Some news

At its Regular January meeting on Wednesday, the Selectmen received an update from the Center Building Renovation Committee and voted unanimously to authorize the filing of an application to the CT Department of Economic and Community Development for improvements to the Center Building gymnasium, its air handling system, and renovation and modernization of the adjacent public and handicapped lavatories.

The Selectmen also acted to authorize the First Selectman to sign grant documents to proceed with the receipt of $2 millon in state funding for the Community and Cultural Center (C&CC) building renovation project. At its Regular February meeting the Selectmen expect to entertain a proposal from the C&CC building committee. Between now and then, the committee intends to hold an information session for the public at which further details are shared.