By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — Disappointed when voters rejected a $100,000 plan to renovate Searles School and Chapel, Tom and Margaret Case are launching a fund drive with the blessing of selectmen.
They put up nearly $5,000 of their own money to get the drive started.
“This is a very important building to save,” said Margaret Case, a former selectman. “We can’t let it go another year and take a chance.”
The Searles project went down to defeat at Town Meeting, 1,808-1,757, along with a proposed $31 million middle school and a contract for teachers.
“I was just disappointed,” Case said.
Officials planned to repay the bond through rental fees charged for the facility, which is used for weddings, meetings and community events.
“It was a no-money issue for the town,” Case said.
The renovation involves work on the roof, windows and septic system.
Plywood covers windows in the facility, sometimes referred to as the Searles Building, Case said.
“It needs to be painted badly on the back portion,” she said.
The Tudor-style building is located just south of Route 111. It has a large tower, arched doorways, cypress paneling and stained glass.
The town acquired the property in a deal with Edward F. Searles in 1909. He built the Searles Castle on nearby Searles Road.
The Cases expect to formally move forward with the fund drive in May, but they already are leading the way.
They donated the first $4,999.99.
“Tom and I felt if we gave a substantial donation up front that would launch it,” she said.
There was a reason their gift was short of $5,000.
“If we gave them a penny more, they would have had to have a public hearing and pay for advertising,” Case said.
“It’s a very generous gift from two people who have given greatly to the town over many years,” Selectmen’s Chairman Phil LoChiatto said.
Case acknowledges officials may pursue voter approval for funding again next year.
If that happens, whatever the fund drive brings in could reduce the amount requested, she said.
“It would be my opinion that, say we were able to raise $50,000, then they would only be asking voters to raise $50,000,” she said.
LoChiatto said he can’t speak for the whole board, but said he would support putting a Searles question before voters again.
While LoChiatto said the town isn’t allowed to say in a warrant article that Searles rentals would help repay the bond, he thinks the town can get that information across to voters in other ways.
To help the fund drive: Town of Windham Searles Fund, attention: Margaret Case, P.O. Box 120, Windham, 03087. Call the Cases at 893-8425 for more information.
Donations are tax deductible.