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Bringing history to life at the Ashland Historic School

Tri-County CAP celebrates grand opening

Community members, project partners and local officials celebrated the official opening of the 1870s-era Ashland Historic School as the headquarters for Tri-County CAP during a triumphant observance last Thursday evening. Here, Tri-County CAP Executive Director Lawrence Kelly applauds as the Ashland Historic School bell once again chimes for the community. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
October 27, 2010
ASHLAND—A reverence for history and the promise of a bright future are inextricably intertwined in the handsomely refurbished and renovated Ashland Historic School.

Members of the public were treated to a tour and dedication ceremony last Thursday evening, Oct. 21, as Tri-County Community Action Program, the Ashland Historical Society, and other project partners celebrated the official opening of the 1870s-era school building, repurposed as offices for the Tri-County CAP housing assistance, fuel assistance and Headstart programs.

The sense of history is palpable as soon as you enter the front foyer of the old school.

Photographs of hundreds of former students can be seen on the walls, some seated with hands folded in neat lines at small wooden classroom desks, some posing for class photographs outside on the lawn in front of the three-story brick building on the hill.

Epitomizing the potential of the students, past and present, who have entered through the Ashland school's doors, a photograph of George Hoyt Whipple (1878-1976), perhaps the most distinguished alum, is one of the many historic photographs now adorning the hallways of the former Ashland Elementary School.

The 1934 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine once attended school here, going on to an illustrious career in Physiology, publishing landmark studies of anemia and the pathology of the liver.

Another distinguished local alum, Ashland Historical Society President David Ruell, welcomed guests to the festivities and delivered a brief history of the ambitious school renovation project.

"The task of adapting a 19th Century building, bringing it up to modern codes and safety requirements, adding an elevator and other features, is not easy," said Ruell. "As you can see, it was accomplished with a great deal of sympathy for the old building."

He expressed deep gratitude to the project architect, Tom Samyn of Samyn-D'Elia Architects, and Milestone Engineering and Construction for their commitment to excellence and perseverance in seeing the project through.

"As you can see, they have done a fine job," said Ruell. "Many people persevered over the nine years it took to get this project completed. That is quite a marvel. We all really appreciate everything that has been done to preserve this landmark and bring it back to life for the community."

In addition to other funding sources, the Ashland Historical Society supported the project with grant writing assistance, community mobilization and a "bricks and windows" donor campaign.

Tri-County CAP Executive Director Lawrence Kelly also spoke movingly about the historical significance of the beloved old school building.

"What we have here is a live connection with our past," said Kelly. "It is one thing to learn history in the classroom, but entirely another to be able to see it, touch it, walk through it and continue it. When we walk into this building, we can experience the commitment that our forbears had for educating our children. The architecture is gorgeous. The fact that it can continue to be an instrument of education, as the location for our Headstart programs, is also very important."

The observance took place in the spacious, fully refurbished third-story meeting room, featuring its lofty, original pressed tin ceiling and slate chalkboards.

According to architect Samyn, much of the original wood floor and paneling was in fairly good condition, and was therefore able to be refinished and restored to its full, rich luster. Where damage had occurred, replacements and repairs were made to match as closely as possible.

"We tried to enhance as many of the existing features of the building as possible," said Samyn. "Luckily, it hadn't been destroyed or changed much over the years. It has been a real pleasure to work on this project."

The project was an ambitious one. The building had been vacant since the early 1990s, and pigeons had found a roost in certain spots of the rafters, but for the most part, the roof remained intact and protected the interior wood. The building had to be brought up to code, an elevator was added and a completely new heating, ventilation and cooling system was installed.

"If you had seen the building before we started, you might have thought it was hopeless, but I can't say enough about Milestone," said Samyn. "They really love what they do and enjoy restoration of historic buildings."

The result is simply beautiful.

Tri-County CAP's Miriam Brown has been with the project from the start. She said much of the office functions began to move from their former quarters at the Whole Village in Plymouth this summer.

While Tri-County CAP maintains a Headstart program at that site, the classrooms at the Ashland School will expand program offerings in the region.

"I just love to come to work in the morning," said Brown.

Tri-County CAP has office space for rent in the building, open to other non-profit organizations in the local area.

The dedication concluded with the ceremonial ringing of the old Ashland School bell. Once again, the cheerful tone of the bell chimes for Ashland's future, as well as its past.


Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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