Community Spotlight: Gorham Town Hall, A Treasure Restored and Honored for Preservation

Saturday, May 7, a crowd of more than 100 local officials, residents and friends gathered at the Gorham Town Hall to celebrate the grand opening of the Gorham Auditorium and mark the completion of a truly impressive renovation project.

In 2005, the Town of Gorham began what was expected to be a one-year project to bring the historic structure up to code and improve functionality. Built in 1918, it was the town's first publicly-owned meeting house, constructed with the limited resources available at the time. Fire had destroyed two opera houses previously occupying the site, and the new structure was built over charred remains that would prove to be one of many complications.

The project quickly became a "complete gut renovation," requiring staff, furniture and countless boxes from the town administrative offices and police department to relocate to two trailers located in the fire station parking lot. There they all remained for nearly two years before returning to renovated space in town hall.

Driven by a need to keep escalating construction costs in check, the board of selectmen decided that the town would serve as general contractor, overseeing each piece of the project down to the last detail and making use of available low-cost resources, such as those available through the nearby New Hampshire Correctional Facility. Inmates removed the auditorium woodwork, wainscoting and doors, carefully refinished each piece, and reinstalled the final product. Wooden chairs, originally from the Lancaster Theatre and donated by local residents, were also refurbished at a surprisingly low cost.

"The Gorham project revived a significant, critical landmark using innovative and effective partnerships. Its leaders were tenacious and creative," said New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (NHPA) Executive Director Jennifer Goodman. The Gorham Town Hall project has received a 2011 Preservation Achievement Award, presented to town officials and the community during the May 7 ceremony.

Gorham officials are thrilled to see the auditorium back in use after many years. "It's a public space that's meant to be used and enjoyed," said Town Manager Robin Frost. Concerts and events are already booked throughout the summer, including the Gorham High School 2011 Prom held in late May.

To learn more, contact Denise Vallee, Gorham Director of Finance and Administration, at 603.466.3322. View the complete list of 2011 NHPA award recipients.

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