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by Susan Vaughn Barnstable Patriot Posted Jun. 27, 2013 (Susan Vaughn photo)

CAUSE FOR ALARM – Judy Desrochers, president of the Meetinghouse Farm board, describes the deteriorating condition of the Paine Black House next to the farm at the historical commission meeting last week. Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rapp Grassetti and member Len Gobeil are listening.

Historic commission discusses urgent need for attention
The discussions around the 18th century Paine Black House in West Barnstable have been like a revolving door, and once again the town historical commission is ready to open that door.
Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rapp Grassetti noted at a meeting last week that there have been five years of conversation about what to do with the deteriorating town-owned house on Route 149 next to Meetinghouse Farm. The house has been called “museum quality” by a town consultant.

Jo Anne Miller Buntich, director of the town’s growth management department, provided some historic background on the building, saying its use is limited because it is on a nonconforming one-acre lot and the town requires that it be used for educational purposes. “The town manager has made no determination about the property,” she said.

Rapp Grassetti said the last request for proposals for a tenant brought only one response, from Meetinghouse Farm. She expressed concern that “the place has rotting mold and is deteriorating.”
She invited Judy Desrochers, president of the farm’s board, to the table to discuss the issues with the commission. Desrochers confirmed Rapp Grassetti’s comments.

“The mold is literally dripping from the ceiling and walls,” Desrochers said. She has taken it upon herself to open up the house occasionally to air it out and mow the lawn, but Rapp Grassetti urged her not to go into the house, for health and liability reasons.

Desrochers said that at one point it looked like the town was interested in connecting the house to the larger farm property. “The farm has been a regular respondent about this property,” she said. “We have an interest. We hope the property will be reconnected to the farm,” she said, noting its mission is horticulture education.

“Our frustration has been we feel caught in a revolving conversation over a long period,” Desrochers added. She said the farm’s concept has grown over 10 years and she sees much potential in the next 10 years for horticulture education. She expressed hope that the town would see the potential of the house as an educational resource. Otherwise, Desrochers concluded, the house should be sold or demolished. “Something has to be done because it’s literally disintegrating,” she said.

Commission members agreed. “You’re watching a building die,” Nancy Shoemaker said. She suggested a nonprofit organization or an individual should be enlisted to take care of the house. 

“We find this building is historically significant,” member Laurie Young said. Rapp Grassetti suggested the commission look into applying for community preservation funds to pay for an assessment of the house.

Shoemaker asked if the commission could get permission to enter the house to document its condition. Buntich said it could. The last time the commission walked through the house was in November 2008. Buntich said she would find out who the most appropriate person would be to discuss policy direction for the property with the commission at its next meeting, on July 16.

Town Councilor June Daley is planning to attend the meeting and is encouraging others to do so.
“Since the first of the year,” she wrote in her most recent report to constituents, “I have undertaken a concerted effort to save the Paine Black House. I was very disappointed the FY 2014 Capital Improvement Plan failed to fund the DPW’s request for minimal Paine Black repairs. I am still seeking those funds.”

Daley wrote that she has “lobbied the town manager to prioritize the preservation of this precious property.” She said Meetinghouse Farm would be a good steward of the property.

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