By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Grafton – Apple Tree Arts (ATA) was recently awarded a $219,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF) that will be used to renovate the Great Hall, located on the second floor of the community school of the arts’ historic Civil War-era facility, known as the Town House. The nonprofit music and theatre arts school had raised the matching funds required to receive the grant.
The Town House, built in the early 1850s, has served as a municipal building, hosted numerous plays, concerts, lectures, basketball games, banquets and more, and is now home to several small businesses, as well as ATA.
The building, located at One Grafton Common, is on both the state and national registries of historic buildings, but due to structural and outdated conditions, needed extensive renovations.
In October 2007 Town Meeting voters approved a measure to keep the building rather than sell it. That fall, ATA expressed interest in working with the town to raise funds to renovate the building in exchange for a long-term lease of the second and third floors. In 2009 the Board of Selectmen formed the Grafton Town House Oversight Committee and in 2011 approved a 30-year long-term lease for ATA, allowing the organization to fundraise for the renovation and use the second- and third-floor space as a performance arts center.
The organization needed to raise $1 million in funding for the renovation and that “significant progress” must be made in the preservation of the Great Hall by the end of the 10th year or the town may terminate the lease. In exchange, Apple Tree Arts pays $1 annually for their lease, but is also responsible for paying their share of the common maintenance expenses of the building. This represents more than 50 percent of costs, which equates to about $24,000 annually.
Over the ensuing years, a combination of Community Preservation Act (CPA) and town reserves, as well as monies raised by Apple Tree Arts, have been used to replace the roof, preserve three fire escapes, and made the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Donna Blanchard, ATA’s executive director, said she was thrilled to be given a grant for the second time from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
“The idea that the grant funds will be used to support arts in the building is wonderful. The things that will make a big difference in the Great Hall include integrated sound and lighting systems, black-out window treatments, stage rigging and curtains. These improvements will make it an ideal performance venue,” Blanchard explained. “The stage and auditorium will be much more conducive to theatre arts productions. The rigging on the stage will allow for backdrops to be used. A modern projector and screen will be added as well.”
The grant also will provide audio equipment and smartboards for Apple Tree Arts’ classrooms and practice studios. In a phase that will be funded later, a full-fledged media/recording studio will be created. The school wants to provide the necessary equipment so students can make their own films.
This funding helps support a new venue that will soon be available for cultural, business and community activities in central Massachusetts. Local businesses and community organizations will be able to use the hall for major events.
“The auditorium is perfect for wedding or baby showers, bar mitzvahs and weddings,” Blanchard noted.
In 2011, Apple Tree Arts received a CFF grant for $250,000, which was one of the highest awards for the grant round. The grant, along with private foundation funds, private donations and Community Preservation Committee funding, allowed the front of the building to become accessible (a ramp was installed, the portico floor was elevated and other improvements were completed). Two handicap accessible toilets were added to the basement level, too. Five of the seven tenant spaces in the Grafton Town House were made accessible at that time.
The organization debuted a “Share a Chair” campaign at its recent Masquerade Gala announcing the opening of the Great Hall. Forty chairs have been sponsored to date by individuals and businesses to honor or recognize a family member or friend or organization. An investment of $250 will allow thousands of people to enjoy arts and culture every year for many years to come. The goal is to have 150 chairs installed in the Great Hall by September 2017.
The nonprofit 501(c)3 organization offers early childhood music classes, theatre arts programs, private instrumental and voice instruction, ensembles and community concerts year round. Founded in 1989, Apple Tree Arts serves over 3,000 children and adults annually.
For more information on ATA visit www.appletreearts.org.