Momentum is growing in the effort to give a new lease on life for the Rumford Center Meeting House. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — Thanks to grants and donations, the Rumford Center Village Improvement Society (RCVIS) is getting close to starting the restoration of the nearly two century old Rumford Center Meeting House.

Since 1804, when Francis Keyes was charged with constructing a meeting house “as near to the center as may be,” the House has occupied the same site, 1352 Route 2, in Rumford Center. This building has always served as the community’s gathering place. Though still in use, the structure is in sorry condition, its foundation crumbling, paint peeling, not one system up to code.

And since 1924, VIS has used the building exclusively and has done everything from plays to concerts, to having it available to the community for things.

Rumford’s original town hall

The meeting house served as Rumford’s original town hall and meeting place. The Select Board leased the building to the non-profit RCVIS, months after a nonbinding advisory poll when citizens voted not to support the town raising and appropriating a then-estimated $600,000 to repair and improve the meeting house.

Town Manager Stacy Carter said the building has significant historical value to the town. There are code issues with the building, structural foundation issues, and to continue to utilize that building, it needs work. “But it’s not a building that’s falling down.”

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Momentum is growing

During an upbeat meeting of RCVIS in the meeting house on Oct. 15, President Ken MacFawn reminded the membership of several things.

* They now have 96 members paying membership dues of $25 per year. “That’s a steadfast amount that we can depend on, hopefully, every year.

* They have also had several monetary donations from all over from people “who remember this building, even if they don’t live here anymore.”

* And there were several people who donated things for the recent annual yard sale. “That was a big boost to us this year.”

MacFawn noted, “The benevolence of a lot of people has helped us.”

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He said that over his last 20 years as RCVIS president, many of the people instrumental “in keeping this place together” moved or passed away. “It kind of got to a point where we started to lose membership and people’s attention. Because of the shape of the building, we couldn’t do the things we wanted to do. Henceforth, things kind of fell apart.

MacFawn added, “With this new group, as you can see, we’re serious. We have meetings. We have officers. We have a 501c3 non-profit organization. All these things kind of came together over the last 14 months.”

First of four-phase project nears start

Sarah Broughton, treasurer, talked about the group’s current financial standing.

As of the end of September, their statement balance had over $43,000, with much of that coming from a $20,000 from the Belvedere Preservation Fund and a $5,000 grant from Franklin Savings Bank.

“We’ve received word, just recently, that Poland Springs Community Fund has approved a $20,000 grant to us. Our yard sale was phenomenal this year. We raised over $7,000. That’s the most our yard sale has ever taken in,” said Broughton. “We’re very excited about what is happening. It’s all coming together.”

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Committee member Linda Russell said, “So here we are now trying to raise money to restore the meeting house and get it back to itself. Unsurprisingly, grants or people who give money, want to know what you’re budget is.”

They are hoping to reach $70,000 soon so they can begin Phase One, which includes:

1. Excavating perimeter and raising the building

2. Installing new frost wall foundation and strategic support devices, and assessing structural needs for Phase Two.

3. Set building on new foundation.

Also needed are two ADA bathrooms and a kitchen in the effort to make this a community building again.

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MacFawn spoke about the project’s contractor, Jim Barnett. “I’ve known him since he was a kid. He’s very responsible, has done a lot of work for the town, has a good reputation, and he knows how to do this kind of thing, which is to raise an old building.”

He added that Barnett has a very comprehensive plan for doing this, “but it’s not easy or anything you do quickly.”

Factors in getting Phase One underway this year include whether Barnett has the time to do this and gets this done before the weather gets bad, and whether or not they come up with some kind of solution is regard to the cemetery, located behind the meeting house.”

MacFawn said, “We’ve got a lot of posted beam stuff, the roof sags, the floor — if you stand up over there, you could almost fall over, you can see the remnants of what’s going on with that wall where the plaster is cracked, we know it’s moving.”

He continued, “So Jim, with his benevolence, three years ago, dug that whole side out because it was literally going into the ground. He sent his men up here for a whole week. They dug it up. They jacked it up. And that gave us a chance to look under it and see what ta heck is going on. And he did it for nothing. He wouldn’t take any money for it because he wants to be part of the community, too.”

Memberships/donations

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MacFawn also acknowledged the work secretary Gabrielle Johnson has done online to “give people an idea of what we’re all about, progress, and how to get onto the website to check on what we have in mind coming and what we’ve done in the past.”

Johnson noted these include https://www.rumfordcentervis.org/ and Rumford Center Village Improvement Society over Facebook as well as Instagram.

Donations can be made online at https://fundly.com/help-us-save-the-meeting-house.

A reminder to potential donors that gifts to this non-profit are tax deductible.

Membership to Rumford Center Village Improvement Society is $25 per household per year. The membership year runs May through April. To join, send payment to the Rumford Center Village Improvement Society, P.O. Box 361, Rumford, ME 04276. Include your name, contact information, and note the payment is for membership.

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