STRATHAM — Once perilously close to demolition the old town hall in Stratham has a new lease on life, literally. A recently agreed to preservation easement between the town and the new owner, Mark Perlowski, will preserve the structure for generations to come.
The building located at 151 Portsmouth Avenue is currently undergoing a complete renovation and will soon reopen as the home to four residential apartments.
“This housing, together with adjacent additional housing and business venues being built by Mr. Perlowski, will add a new vibrancy to this historically important area,” said Dave Canada, chair of the Heritage Commission.
The old town hall was sold to Perlowski in 2017 along with the neighboring parsonage house, soon after both appeared on a demo permit filed with the town.
It was at this time that the town’s Heritage Commission and other residents began what seemed to be an unlikely quest to save a piece of Stratham’s past.
There were only two options available to save the old town hall. One was for the town to repurchase the building, which it had sold in 1997; the remaining option was a preservation easement. The town decided to pursue the easement.
“We have found that each preservation easement has had a different set of dynamics,” said Canada, who also noted the active support of the Board of Selectmen. “The most important component is having a good rapport with the owner”
“Mr. Perlowski immediately grasped the public concern for the former epicenter of town life,” said Canada. “He worked with us to save the building while keeping his investment sound.”
As part of the agreement, the structure's current tax assessed value will be frozen for nine years, after which time it will be taxed at market value. Selectmen approved Perlowski’s community revitalization tax relief application for the property on Oct. 1.
“This is important when significant work is done to a distressed building of historical importance so that the building will be saved rather than demolished or neglected,” explained Canada.
An additional easement purchased by the town will apply to the building's exterior, which will secure its historic appearance for perpetuity. The town will monitor any new construction to ensure that it meets aesthetic standards and utilizes appropriate materials.
“For over a hundred years our town’s social and administrative life revolved around this building,” said Canada. “There are still many residents who were married here. Many fathers today teach their children sporting skills first learned in the main room.”
Built in 1877, the Second Empire-style building is one of only two town halls of that style left in the state. Throughout its history, the building had served as a library, police station, and town offices, not to mention home to dances and performances.
“We especially want to thank these folks for their support, both the financial support shown at Town Meeting and the many favorable comments and reviews we have had from them as work progresses,” said Canada, referring to the residents who banded together to save the historic building.
Once the renovations are completed the public will be invited to an open house. The date and time have not yet been set, but will likely occur in early 2019.