Shelter From the Storm
"The Vermont Community Loan Fund helped us to restore a beloved community building and return it to service for the people of Northfield."
The Gray Building in Northfield has had many ‘lives,’ serving many purposes and people over the course of its 130-year-plus history. Today, that legacy continues on as the Gray Building assists community members hurt by 2011’s Hurricane Irene. It’s a special story for Northfield, a town that has come together to support each other in the face of a devastating crisis. It’s also a special story for VCLF too, an opportunity for our borrowers and investors to, quite literally, work together to make their community stronger.
The Many Lives of the Gray Building
Constructed in 1877 as a multiple classroom schoolhouse, the Gray Building operated continuously as the Northfield Graded and High School building until 1994. But after closing its doors as a public school, the building fell into disrepair. That is - until a team of dedicated volunteers and donors came together to restore the landmark as a community center and home for local businesses and organizations. The nonprofit Gray Building Coalition was founded and purchased the building in 2003.
Not surprisingly, a nearly 130-year-old building that had been vacant for the better part of a decade, and was being re-imagined with a completely new purpose in mind, needed some help to begin this new life. Planning for preservation, remediation and renovation would involve developers, engineers, architects and contractors, so a capital campaign to support the Gray Building’s rebirth was launched.
That’s when VCLF got involved. Our first loan to the Gray Building Coalition helped them fund early planning and construction costs, meaning that the project could move forward well before the campaign reached its fundraising goal. With restoration completed in 2004, the historic structure was made handicapped accessible along with a host of other retrofits, structural repairs and more.
Since the building’s restoration, long-term tenants have included the Northfield Boys & Girls Club and the Women’s Health & Fitness Center – both still tenants. Additionally, the local HeadStart child development and family services program used the space, as did an alternative middle school and a youth dance studio among others.
“We’re a long-term rental space, but it has always been our goal to serve the local community whenever we can,” said Annie Gould, Treasurer and board member of the Gray Building Coalition.
It’s that philosophy that has continued to create another new life for the Gray Building in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
Irene and Beyond
When Irene pounded much of downtown Northfield in August and various businesses and community organizations were suddenly left homeless in the aftermath, the Gray Building Coalition again extended themselves to local community businesses and organizations, large and small.
When corporate furniture manufacturer (and past VCLF investor) WallGoldfinger needed temporary space for its 20-plus office staff, the Gray Building was there for them. Moving right into available space, WallGoldfinger was fully operational again within 48 hours after the storm. Amazingly, they didn’t miss a single production or delivery deadline, and, thanks in part to the Gray Building, continue to manufacture the highest-quality product.
Because of Irene, Northfield-based quilters group Vermont Quiltsearch was displaced from the space they were to use for their important annual quilt appraisals. Gould and her team made room for them at the Gray Building.
“The Gray Building was restored so it could be a community space,” says Gould, which is precisely how it has functioned in the wake of Irene. “The Gray Building has turned into a great place for the community to come together,” she adds. “But none of this could have happened without VCLF. VCLF helped us to restore a beloved community building and return it to service for the people of