By Susan Smallheer
BRANDON — The three carpenters who were singing along to “Let It Snow” on the radio last Thursday afternoon have been hard at work for the past three weeks in the historic 1861 Brandon Town Hall, replacing a creaky and unsafe stage.
The new $28,000 stage is the latest in a long list of improvements being made to the hall, which was closed for 30 years and not so long ago seemed destined to become a parking lot, according to Dennis Marden, president of Friends of the Brandon Town Hall.
“We’ve raised $1 million to get where we are today,” Marden said, referring to all the projects undertaken so far at the Town Hall. The Friends were founded in 1998.
The new stage is slightly larger that the one it replaced, with the stage apron coming two feet farther out into the room. The old stage was at least 100 years old, he said, and was reinforced with scotch tape, duct tape, and boxes.
“It squeaked, which is not fun,” he said. “But it’s basically safety.”
The stage had to be reinforced underneath by 120 individual plywood boxes about a foot square, which Marden brought from the Neshobe School, whose stage had similar problems. In addition, 40 larger wooden platforms also reinforced the stage.
The new stage is set off by the pale green and gold of the theater’s proscenium.
The Friends received a $14,000 cultural facilities grant from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, and raised a matching $14,000 to pay for the new stage, Marden said, giving a tour of the work at the Town Hall. Work is expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks, depending on holiday schedules. During construction, the upstairs of the Town Hall is closed to the public.
Friends of the Town Hall regularly puts on events, including plays and concerts, and a monthly series of silent movies.
The three carpenters are from Shields Construction of Brandon, and owner Tim Shields and crew were busy painting the new stage a satin-finish black, as well as constructing new center stairs to the stage.
Marden, a retired art teacher at the Neshobe School, has been president of the Friends for the past five years, and has worked on several restoration projects.
He said the stage needed to be replaced because it was uneven, and even unsafe in spots. He said he called on a former student at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland about their stage, and learned that the best stage material was MDF — manufactured density fiberboard — rather than wood flooring. A total of 5,000 screws in a tight cross pattern were used to hold it in place.
The stage footlights were eliminated, and the stage is instead illuminated by a bank of lights in the balcony and on the side of the theater itself.
“They’re almost all LED,” Marden said.
While the Town Hall is owned by the town, Brandon has in recent years been investing in upgrades to the building, while the Friends tackled inside projects, Marden said.
In recent years, Town Manager Dave Atherton said, the town paid for a heating system, which allows town meeting to return to the large hall. The Select Board meets in the basement meeting space, which was renovated about five years ago.
Marden said the town was putting about $20,000 a year into annual maintenance of the building.
He said the town earlier this year removed “150 years of poop” from various animals from the ceiling of the Town Hall theater and put down an inch of foam insulation. More insulation will be added, he said.
Big projects still to be done include work on the slate roof.