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Westfield Woman’s Club receives additional funds for lift

The Westfield Woman’s Club is seen in March 2019 (Photo by Alyssa Mathieson)

WESTFIELD – The Westfield Woman’s Club was granted $100,000 June 9 by the Community Preservation Committee on June 9 for an external lift at its 28 Court St. building.

Women’s Club Foundation President Sue West came before the Committee to request an additional $112,681 for the renovation of the historic building that is currently underway. After a discussion, the request was granted at a lower amount.

West acknowledged that they had already received a grant of $135,000 from the CPC, but that estimates had increased for the external lift, a part of the handicap accessibility upgrade to the building.

“On our own, the Club paid for internal renovations, including a handicap accessible bathroom on the ground floor. We began the construction of the external lift, but the original estimate was quite a bit below (costs),” West said, saying the original estimate they gave the committee was not based on in-depth architectural drawings. She said the cost of the bathroom also came in higher than expected.

“We’re very much interested in completing this project, and we’re looking for your support,” West said.

CPC chair Thomas Sharp noted that the Woman’s Club was not offering a matching grant for the request.

“The Club did pay $32,000 for the bathroom. We came to you first. We are prepared to make our own contribution and do fundraising,” West said. City Planner Jay Vinskey said that the handicap accessible bathroom could have been paid for with Community Preservation Act funds.

Woman’s Club Building Chair Dawn Thomas said the Club had set aside $50,000 towards the project. However, she added the Club has been closed, and all fundraising activities curtailed. She said construction just got underway at the end of June, which was a late start, but they are hoping to open on Oct. 1, “if the rest of the world opens up.”

When questioned about the $50,000, Thomas said the Club is also funding a lift to the stage.

The Club architect, also present, said the state Architectural Access Board is also requiring a new sidewalk from the front of the building to the accessible entrance, which will cost another $6,000.

Several committee members expressed concern that the additional request contained no matching funds from the club. Sharp called it “a bad precedent” for future applicants.

“This is a big picture project,” Vinskey said.

“If you look at the whole project, and you consider the $50,000 that the club is contributing, out of a $260,000 project, we’re contributing a fifth,” West said.

CPC member Bill Porter said in reviewing this request, he had the same thought, “Where’s the match. After what I’ve heard here this evening, I would be in favor of providing half of what was requested,” he said.

“You’re calling it a private institution, but almost everything that the Club offers is for the public. I think it is really more public,” said CPC member Cynthia Gaylord.

Thomas said the Club is used more often by the public, including a church that meets there once a week, and concerts by Gaslight Entertainment. “The public uses it more than the Club,” she said.

“Do you see a difference when you say open to the public, when people charge,” asked Sharp.

“Yes and no,” responded Gaylord. “There is no other venue in the city for theatrical productions. I see your point, but on the other hand, I think it’s a good project. It has to be handicap accessible, or they can’t open up.”

Gaylord also pointed to the more than $1.6 million available to the CPC in Community Preservation Act funds, with no other applications pending. “This is a project that’s well underway, and I would hate to see it come to a grinding halt,” she said.

Sharp said he would like to see the committee purchase land with some of the CPA money, and also provide rental assistance. “I’m more stuck on the precedent. If we approve $100,000, can you scrape up $12,000 yourself,” he asked Woman’s Club members.

“Yes, we can try, and we can also try to get renters back in,” said Thomas, adding that first communions, weddings, baby showers have all gone away. “The world has come to an unusual halt. We’re trying to get this project done, so hopefully by the fall we can open up and raise the money. Right now, our back is against the wall, because we can’t have people in the building,” she said.

After further discussion, and other amounts floated, the CPC voted to grant the Women’s Club $100,000, with Porter dissenting.

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