By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Grafton – Paul Scarlett is a prolific volunteer for Grafton arts and historic causes. He’s a member of the Grafton Common Historic District Commission, a town board that oversees preserving the architectural and historical integrity of buildings surrounding the common. Among the buildings is the Grafton Town House, where the primary tenant is now Apple Tree Arts (ATA). Scarlett also serves as a member of the Grafton Town House Oversight and Community Preservation committees, and the ATA Board of Directors.
“The first thing most people think of when they think of Grafton is our beautiful town common – it’s a beautiful and unique setting,” he said. “I really want to have a role in preserving it. That’s a big reason why I’m interested in preserving the Town House.”
Scarlett became involved with ATA several years before the nonprofit community school offering music and theater classes moved into the Town House at 1 Grafton Common. Founded in 1989 with classes at the Congressional Church of Grafton, ATA later expanded to preschools and out-of-town churches. The ATA office was in the garage of a staff member’s home. Scarlett joined the ATA Board of Directors in 2005, then served as president from 2006 to July 2017.
Still an active board member, he has observed a notable 12-year evolution of ATA and the Town House. The ATA board became aware of the Town House from the late Charlie Bolack, aka the unofficial Grafton mayor.
“He thought that the Town House would be perfect for ATA,” Scarlett explained. “It would provide office space and an entertainment venue in the Great Hall. At that time, the building was essentially falling apart and largely vacant.”
At a 2007 Town Meeting, residents learned about high-priced repairs that the town-owned building needed including a failed roof, Scarlett noted.
“ATA stood up and said they’d like to partner with the town to figure a way to restore the building in exchange for a long-term lease,” he relayed. “In 2008 we led the charge on restoring the roof.”
The Board of Selectmen signed a 30-year lease with ATA for the second and third floors in 2011, helping the community school secure arts-based grants.
“Once we had the long-term lease, it paved the way for us to succeed in preserving and restoring the building,” Scarlett said.
The building underwent a multi-million dollar renovation to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and increase fire safety. Electrical work was done in the Great Hall, which also got carpeted. About 75 chairs have been purchased. A build-out enhanced classrooms and a kitchenette.
A $219,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund will purchase technology for lighting and sound, stage and blackout curtains, and a backdrop system. Scarlett is looking forward to continuing renovations on the 1800s Town House building.
“History is an important piece of a community and sometimes doesn’t get a lot of attention,” he said. “Fortunately, history really does get attention in Grafton.”