In Lincoln, resolution calls for action to aid historic buildings

In Lincoln, resolution calls for action to aid historic buildings

LINCOLN - Volunteer groups who run Lincoln's historic buildings are looking for town officials to take a more active role in funding and preserving the properties, to ensure they remain landmarks in the community if volunteer support one day dwindles.

Historian Al Klyberg and Friends of Hearthside President Kathy Hartley were among those who went before the Ordinance Committee on Nov. 25 following the drafting of a resolution by Town Councilor John Flynn.

The resolution, as Flynn explained, calls for two actions: that historic building financials be reported out as separate line items in the budget, instead of being listed as one "Other Buildings" line; and that the Capital Improvement Committee develop a multi-year preservation plan.

He said the assets are "so valuable," they deserve the transparency of their own line item.

"The resolution does not ask for any conclusion or any additional money to be spent," Flynn said.

But that may not have the desired effect, said Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond. Listing costs to each building separately will not put more money into the accounts, he said, and a multi-year plan is difficult because the town's current administration cannot commit to paying for something years down the road.

"Unfortunately," Almond said, governments cannot "ensure what citizens will pay for in the future."

He continued, "I know that I'm committed to it, but I don't know that we can resolute future councils, resolute future administrations."

He recognized volunteers for doing "a significant and great job" and called the resolution "well-intended," but said it was not appropriate while Lincoln's Financial Town Meeting process is in place - "nothing in the world could be more transparent than that," he said.

As always, Almond said, projects like a new roof or boiler can be submitted as a resolution to the FTM and paid for out of the town's capital fund. The only related capital expenditure this year, he said, was a new furnace and oil tank at Valentine Whitman House, which cost the town $7,458.86.

"When we start getting tempted to circumvent that process," Almond said, what is to stop another group from wanting the same treatment?

The routine utility expenses for Moffit Mill, Hearthside House, Chase Farmhouse, Hannaway Blacksmith Shop and Valentine Whitman House - which cost Lincoln an average of about $405 a month, according to data provided by Almond - are on the smaller side of the annual expenditures, he said.

"The goal should be to make these properties self-sustaining," Almond said.

Klyberg led the discussion in saying that something has to be done to keep these properties a part of the Lincoln landscape.

He explained that the Moffit Mill, which sits over a private dam rated as "high hazard" by the state, is in danger of losing the historical items inside that make the building worth visiting. All pieces are on loan from Slater Mill, Klyberg said, so if the Pawtucket mill officials feel the Lincoln location is in danger, they can take everything back.

Without the items, Klyberg said, there would be "no reason to open the doors at all."

Hartley, who formed Friends of Hearthside 12 years ago, said the group has invested $10,000 into a study this year to develop a plan for the future. She said no one just waits for something to happen to their own home's roof, so why should that be the plan for historic buildings?

Klyberg said at the request of the former administration, he put together plans of action for several historic properties, including the Chase Farmhouse, Moffit Mill and Hannaway Blacksmith Shop.

He said discounting the importance of the buildings would be a disservice to the town, and the reason people choose to buy houses in Lincoln.

Lincoln Woods State Park sees 1 million visitors each year, he said, while the Blackstone River Bikeway sees 100,000, which contributes to 6,200 unique visits to the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Museum. Hearthside House attracts 3,500 visits, he said, and the Arnold House, which is owned by Historic New England, had more than 1,900 visits this year. North Gate Toll House reported 700 visits.

"What we're talking about is the town brand," Klyberg said. "The issue is that historic houses contribute to the magnetism of this town."

Perhaps something could be done in the business community, Klyberg said, to capitalize on the history of the town and direct visitors to the landmarks. Other communities have used place mats at restaurants, he said.

Flynn said with buildings, primarily along Great Road, serving as an attraction for tourists and school trips, and signs pointing drivers to the historic district, Lincoln needs to act.

"We really have something great here in Lincoln," Flynn said.

Flynn, who sits on the Capital Improvement Committee, admitted when prompted that he had not brought up this multi-year preservation plan idea at any meeting over the past five months, and the five-year Capital Improvement Plan was approved at the Town Council meeting the next night.

Councilor Arthur Russo suggested that the town look into filling either or both the Land Trust or the Conservation Committee, which are both "struggling" to fill seats, with volunteers who can advocate for historic properties.

Maybe the town should look into amending a portion of the charter, he said, to include historic properties in the list of responsibilities for one of the committees.

Councilor James Jahnz said the Council has historically looked to similar towns for ideas.

"We haven't tried to recreate the wheel," he said. "We've tried to emulate what's out there."