FRAMINGHAM – Tonight, April 20, the Friends of Village Hall and the Framingham History Center are offering tours of the historic building at 2 Oak Street.
Historic Village Hall is not handicapped accessible, and for more than a decade individuals have been advocating for the historic building to be accessible to all.
Tuesday night, the Selectmen unanimously approved including the accessibility project for the building in the capital budget for the fiscal year, that begins July 1.
“I’m very excited that this is finally – after all these years – happening,” said Karen Foran Dempsey, chair of the Framingham Disability Commission. “Not that I ever gave up hope – but you get discouraged. I’m very pleased that finally all of the pieces are falling together. Looking forward to the vote of Town Meeting and then the ability to celebrate upstairs in Village Hall.”
The estimated cost to make the historic building handicapped accessible is $2.2 million.
Dempsey said this April will mark the 15th Anniversary of the Framingham Disability Commission.
“This issue of lack of accessibility at the Village Hall was one of the first issues we addressed with the Town, and still continue to do so,” said Dempsey. “Over the past 15 years, there have been many events held in this Hall that people with disabilities have been unable to attend, therefore not allowing them to share precious memories with their families, friends, colleagues and community. This issue continues to remain a high priority for the Disability Commission.”
The Village Hall is a large, centrally located, historic and beautiful piece of town-owned property, under a lease agreement with the Framingham History Center. The Center rents out the building for weddings and other functions. The Center also has held events at the Hall. There is a large staircase to the second floor, but no elevator.
Built in 1834, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Village Hall served Framingham’s second town hall. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Unfortunately, currently it cannot be utilized by the Town for any Town sponsored events because of its inaccessibility,” said Dempsey. “The possibilities and potential use for this Hall are limitless. It is a win, win for all involved to get this project completed.”
The next big step is a vote by Town Meeting to approve the project.
“We have done out homework. We have looked at the numbers one side and down the other,” said Friends of the Village Hall co-President Betty Funk Tuesday night.
Now is the time to get the money into the budget, Funk said.
While gathering signatures in support of this project, the Friends of the Village Hall and Framingham Disability Commission realized that many people have not been inside Framingham’s first Town Hall, thus the tours tonight from 6 to 7:30.
Members of the Friends of the Village Hall include Funk, David Hornfischer, Helen Lemoine, Burton Marmer, Charlie Sisitsky, and Fred Wallace.
According to the Framingham History Center, “Village Hall’s Greek revival architectural style is a simple adaptation of ancient Greek temples. Designed by the nationally recognized architect, Solomon Willard, it reflects the national patriotic and democratic spirit prevalent following the War of 1812. He is responsible for the design of several other National Register structures, including the Bunker Hill Monument. Local carpenters built the hall from plans drawn by Dexter Hemenway.”
The Village Hall originally housed town offices, two schoolrooms, Framingham’s first library and town meeting government, according to Framingham History Center.
“In thrifty Yankee fashion, no space was wasted, as the town fire engine was stored in the basement. In the late 1800s Town Meeting outgrew the Village Hall and met in various public halls in downtown Framingham, until the Memorial Building, our current town hall, was built in 1928,” according to the Center.
“We hope that the majestic Village Hall will be made accessible and will once again become the “jewel” of Framingham, welcoming and inclusive for all, thereby showing that the Town is committed to this same philosophy for all its citizens,” said Dempsey.
Photo courtesy of Framingham History Center/by Damianos Photography