Hall that hosted opera singer, Nobel winner to get new life?
Bethel selectmen Monday decided to take a fresh look at restoring the upstairs of the Cole Block (Odeon Hall), possibly by establishing a capital reserve fund to put money aside annually for improvements.
Chairman and historian Stan Howe made the case for the effort, citing recent work done on the building and the 1891 structure’s historical value.
“We’re putting money into the building all the time,” he said, noting that last year a new wood boiler was installed and the roof replaced. “I think we’re committed now.”
About a decade ago a committee prepared a detailed plan for bringing Odeon Hall into ADA compliance so it could be used again, but the effort stalled for lack of funding.
Howe took selectmen on a trip down memory lane, describing how the hall had been the center of activity in days gone by.
“It was the center of Bethel’s cultural and social life,” he said. “Anybody who was anybody came up there. Geraldine Ferrar, the great Metropolitan opera star, sang up there one time. Jane Adams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, gave a lecture up there. It’s a marvelous space."
Howe said if improved, the hall could be used “foreverything from town meeting to plays to musicals,” as well as for the town’s polling place during elections.
“That would be wonderful,” said Town Clerk Christen Mason.
Howe also suggested the space could be rented out for functions, such as weddings.
Town Manager Jim Doar said there is currently no heat on the second floor. But, he said, “The wood pellet boiler could be sized to heat it. But it’s not energy-efficient at all. It would need new windows.”
The town would also have to provide access to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The overall project, speculated Selectman Peter Southam, might cost around $1 million.
Howe suggested the town consider appropriating about $25,000 to hire a consultant to evaluate the cost of improvements.
The board agreed to put out a public appeal for interested people to offer ideas on a possible project.
Howe left the group with one more anecdote.
“I remember Margaret Joy Tibbetts, who lived across the street, said she held her breath during the Depression because a man, like a human fly, went up the outside of the building with just his hands and feet.”
In other business Monday, the board set a special selectmen’s meeting for Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. in order to approve a warrant for a special town meeting Jan. 29.
The town meeting will consider an ordinance change to establish the Bingham Forest Authority to oversee the 2,300-acre parcel acquired from the Bethel Water District.
Selectman Peter Southam asked about Bethel possibly considering a resolution opposing a potential reversal of flow on the Portland-Montreal oil pipeline to allow the transport of tar sands oil.
The board agreed a group currently interested in the issue should bring it to the annual town meeting.