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Published: Thursday, 4/18/2002

Grand Rapids Twp. voters asked to renew levy for Town Hall repairs

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Les Heyman points out the improvements to the historic town hall. Les Heyman points out the improvements to the historic town hall.
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Voters in Grand Rapids Township will be asked to approve the renewal of a 1-mill, four-year levy during the May election to help pay for ongoing restoration work at the local Town Hall.

The levy raises about $18,500 a year, and during the last several years, the revenue has paid for the installation of energy-efficient, historically correct windows and screens and a new roof of top-grade fiberglass shingles. Repairs also were made to the auditorium's ceiling.

Many other improvements and enhancements have been made to the historic town hall, which was built in 1898 as a joint project of the township and the village. And, there is more work to be done, said Les Heyman, who is on the three-member Town Hall Board of Control.

A chair lift will be added soon along the stairs leading to the second-floor auditorium. Cost for the project is about $31,000 with $15,000 coming from the levy fund; $5,000 from the Grand Rapids arts council, and $11,700 from a community development block grant.

Plans call for restoration work on the large center window that graces the front of the Romanesque-style town hall that was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1975.

Mr. Heyman, who also is a Grand Rapids Township trustee, said that the town hall preservation project has been a community-wide effort, involving many dedicated volunteers. Members of the Grand Rapids Historical Society have donated time and money to the town hall project since the 1970s when renovation work got underway on the theater.

The society has spent almost $50,000 in conjunction with the village council and township trustees for paint, lights, and other repairs. In addition, the society framed class pictures of Grand Rapids High School graduates that are displayed on the dusty-rose colored walls.

“They used to have graduations up here,” said Mr. Heyman as he walked into the auditorium filled with about 150 upholstered seats. “They used to have vaudeville shows in here and there have been weddings and recitals and plays.”

At one time, the town hall was home to the Farmers' Institute where corn, beans, and other crops were judged, he said.

The town hall's popularity declined after a high school auditorium was built, but the building has come alive again with the sound of music from stage productions and other activities.

Chad Hoffman, village administrator, said the town hall's attic has been insulated for the first time, and heating and air conditioning has been added in parts of the building. “We are looking at finishing the heating and air conditioning in the downstairs portion,” he said.

The town hall was built for less than $5,000 after a bill was passed by the state legislature on March 21, 1898, granting approval for the village and township to own the land and the building jointly. The bill authorized the site's purchase and the town hall's construction, Mr. Hoffman said.

The plaque on the front of the building carries the name of L.W. Heyman, a relative of Mr. Heyman. Several members of the Heyman family were township trustees through the years.

As he walked out the front door, Mr. Heyman said he encourages people to take an interest in the preservation work. “From the outside, it does not look like it has changed much in 100 years,” he said. But when visitors go inside, they see the well-kept woodwork, the freshly painted walls.

Many have applauded the efforts to preserve the historic treasure. “For a lot of people,” Mr. Heyman said, “this building is near and dear to their hearts.”



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