WEST SWANZEY — Just a couple of months after a local family pledged to match donations for the renovation of Whitcomb Hall, the project is nearing its fundraising goal.
In May, Michael and Jennifer Gomarlo of Swanzey, along with Michael Gomarlo’s sister Jackie Bevins, who grew up in Swanzey but now lives in Maine, pledged to match up to $50,000 in donations for planned renovations to the building’s second floor. According to Pete Johnson, chairman of the town’s Whitcomb Hall committee, about $40,000 has been donated since then — bringing organizers within striking distance of their target.
The town shut down Whitcomb Hall, which is at 17 Main St., in 1988 because of building code issues, but reopened the renovated first floor in 2016 in time for the hall’s 100-year anniversary. The second-floor grand salon, which features a stage and a balcony that are original to the building, is next on the docket for refurbishment.
The estimated cost of renovating the second floor comes in between $600,000 and $630,000, Michael Gomarlo said.
Fundraising for the project initially began in 2013, and the town has also secured several grants for the renovations, including a $150,000 grant in 2018 from the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.
Between this fundraising and the Gomarlos’ matching campaign, there’s only about $25,000 left to be raised, according to Johnson.
And though donations to the most recent challenge haven’t quite hit the $50,000 threshold, the family has already cut a check for the town, Johnson said.
“I feel quite positive that we’re going to meet the challenge,” Michael Gomarlo said. “So I just assumed, put that money in so it’s earning interest for the town and Whitcomb Hall early.”
Gomarlo also sits on the town’s Whitcomb Hall committee, and previously owned what’s now called Gomarlo’s Shop ’n Save Supermarket in Swanzey until he sold it to his relative Jerel J. “Jerry” Gomarlo in 2016.
He said that growing up in Swanzey, Whitcomb Hall was a place to go to “feel at home,” whether it was for a dance or a basketball game. At that time, everyone in town knew and looked out for each other, he said.
“That may never return, but the fact of the matter is it will be [a] community where people will be there and see the town of West Swanzey and Swanzey and can appreciate some history in the place itself,” Gomarlo said.
Renovations are set to include the installation of a sprinkler system and elevator to make the second story wheelchair-accessible and the removal of lead paint from the ceiling and walls, Johnson said in May. The space’s wooden floors and panels will also be sanded, he said.
Organizers hope to put the project out for bids in October or November, according to Johnson, with the bulk of the construction work expected to take place over the winter. The committee anticipates hosting a grand opening celebration — likely a “tux and gown” affair, Johnson said — sometime in the spring of 2020.
Since reopening in 2016, the hall’s first floor has been used for a range of events, according to Johnson, from town board and committee meetings to educational workshops to private gatherings.
“Every weekend there’s something going on, whether it’s a baby shower, birthday party,” Johnson said. “We’ve had weddings on the lawn out there and then a reception in the hall.”
The committee anticipates that the second floor will be utilized similarly, according to Johnson, with the added possibility of hosting plays or concerts on the salon’s stage. If enough funds are raised, organizers also hope to restore the theater seats and piano housed there.
Both Gomarlo and Johnson emphasized that donations of any amount will help move the project closer to completion.
“We’ve done things as much as we could with the money we’ve had to work with,” Johnson said. “And now the push is on to get the place finally done and be a very active place for Cheshire County, not just Swanzey.”
Cash or check donations for the Whitcomb Hall project can be made to the Town of Swanzey by sending an envelope to PO Box 1009 with a memo line “Whitcomb Hall Renovation Fund.” Donation forms are also available at Gomarlo’s supermarket at 65 West Swanzey Road.