by Doug McClure
EAST CALAIS – On September 2, Governor Phil Scott announced over $13 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to be awarded statewide. The grants are funded through the Vermont Community Development Program, which is a part of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. One recipient is the non-profit East Calais Community Trust (ECCT), which is working to bring the shuttered East Calais store back to life. The ECCT received a $383,000 CDBG.
The goals of the ECCT, according to its informational brochure, are renovating the building “so that a general store can once again meet the needs of the community for the next 100 years,” as well as the three apartments for “much-needed affordable housing,” and ensuring the building “continues to serve as a place that brings the community together.” As with other similar projects, such as the Albany store, the ECCT will not operate the store, but contract with a store operator who “will be solely responsible for deciding how to run a successful store.”
ECCT Treasurer and founding board member Janice Ohlsson said that the ECCT has just launched a fall fundraising campaign to bring in the final $300,000 that is needed for work to begin.
She said, “We have raised, between grants and community donations, a little over a million dollars, with construction and development costs grossly estimated to be around $1.5 million. We are starting a fall fund-raising campaign to help us fill the gap, so construction can begin late in 2021 or early 2022.”
Ohlsson said that the ECCT has already signed contracts with East Calais architect R. Edwards & Co. and Barre-based contractor E.F.Wall & Associates, Inc.
The ECCT said the $1.5 million cost of the overall project is in line with similar projects, such as the Albany General Store (around $800,000 for a new building) and the Currier Store (a $1 million renovation). Beyond the scale of the work necessary due to the building’s 5,300 square feet of space, the project also must meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, lead hazard mitigation, and historic preservation requirements. Because the apartments in the finished building are affordable housing, the ECCT must bring them up to Section 8 requirements with one being ADA-compliant. East Calais village is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and the store is listed as a contributing resource, so the work must adhere to National Park Service standards for historic buildings.
The future store will not have gas tanks. One precipitating factor of the store’s closure in December 2019 was that the state was requiring its owner to replace the fuel tanks, which was prohibitively expensive. The ECCT said, “our research concluded that the financial return on the sale of gas for the store operator is minimal and will not contribute significantly to the long-term viability of the store.” An above-ground tank behind the store for ethanol-free gas at some point in the future has not been ruled out, which the ECCT said “would be useful for generators, mowers, snowmobiles, etc.”
There has always been a general store in the building since the 1850s, often sharing the two-story structure with other stores and apartments. Over the years, the building has also housed a town library, a milliner, the Good Templars’ Lodge Hall, a garage, and apartments, according to the ECCT.
The ECCT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so donations should be tax-deductible. To donate, visit bit.ly/eastcalais or mail checks to East Calais Community Trust (ECCT) at P.O. Box 14,East Calais, Vermont 05650. For more information, visit bit.ly/ectrust.