BRATTLEBORO—The Preservation Trust of Vermont and Building a Better Brattleboro have started working together to help downtown rebound from Sunday night’s five-alarm fire at the Brooks House at the corner of Main and High streets.
“It’s obviously a real tragedy for the community,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of Preservation Trust of Vermont.
Bruhn said that the trust has released $1,000 in grant money to Bob Stevens of Stevens and Associates, P.C. to do a structural assessment of the building.
Bruhn said Stevens’s assessment will help determine if the building can be salvaged, and, if so, what steps should be taken to rehabilitate it.
Sometimes a fire-damaged building looks worse than it really is, said Bruhn, “and let’s hope that’s the case in this situation."
Rebuilding will also depend on the robustness of owner Jonathan Chase’s insurance policy, said Bruhn.
“It’s crucial,” he said.
A model for Brooks House?
The Wilder Building at 30-36 Main St., which burned in 2004, could provide a model for the rebuilding of Brooks House.
According to Bruhn, the building, although ravaged by the fire, maintained its structural integrity and could be saved.
But insurance couldn’t cover the costs of rebuilding, said Bruhn. According to a 2005 Preservation Trust newsletter, the Brattleboro Fire Department and the
Department of Labor and Industry also “required that the unstable, upper two floors either be demolished or stabilization work started within two weeks,” creating impossible demands on owner Fred Noble.
So Noble turned the Wilder Building over to the Windham Housing Trust — then the Brattleboro Area Community Land Trust — which, as a nonprofit, had access to a wider array of grants, loans and funding that a private owner does not.
A similar scenario occurred with the Putney General Store after it burned in 2008.
When owner Erhan Oge decided not to rebuild the long-time Putney landmark, the Putney Historical Society acquired the building and used its nonprofit status to harness rebuilding funds and provide tax deductions to individuals wishing to contribute to the effort.
The Historical Society is rebuilding after a second fire in November 2009 leveled the structure.