Waterford examines options for historic Nevins Tenant Cottage

Waterford — Town leaders plan to re-examine the potential costs to restore and reuse the historic Nevins Tenant Cottage near the Waterford Public Library, with some preservationists suggesting the cottage could house archival records currently held in a mix of town buildings and residences.

The cottage at 57 Rope Ferry Road, built about 1890, once was part of the 350-acre Shaw Farm and belonged to descendants of 18th century New London merchant Nathanial Shaw II. Part of the Jordan Village Historic District recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, the town-owned cottage last was occupied by a town employee and has been vacant for about a half-dozen years.

Town Historian Robert Nye and members of the Waterford Historical Society and Historic Properties Commission say the cottage's historic nature and proximity to the library make it potentially ideal for an archival storage location or reading room.

First Selectman Dan Steward and other officials note using the cottage as an archival spot would require hefty repairs and special conditions, such as climate control, that currently do not exist in the building. Steward on Tuesday noted that because the cottage is a historical building, "you have to restore it to historical standards," creating added challenges and costs.

The Representative Town Meeting's Education Standing Committee will review the issue in the coming weeks. Committee Chairperson Pat Fedor said the town could use money available in capital planning to "have someone do a study of what would it cost to bring it up to condition that would be usable ... whether for archives or something else."

Town Finance Director Kevin McNabola said Tuesday that $49,620 is slotted for the cottage within the town's capital plan for structural repairs and upgrades.

Education Standing Committee member Mark Olynciw said he hoped to continue the conversation among historical preservationists, the library and town officials, perhaps to create "a central location where important town documents can be stored safely and made accessible to the public."

Currently, several records are spread across Town Hall and its basement, the library, the Jordan Park House and other locations, Olynciw said.

Nye on Monday night told the Education Standing Committee that officials could debate uses for the building "until the cows come home."

"There are structural issues that really are urgent that need to be dealt with," he said.

Nye said he planned to meet with an engineer at the site on Thursday, giving the town a better picture of how much an in-depth review might cost. The engineer's review would include restoration specifications and cost estimates to stabilize the structure, enabling the town to apply for matching grants through the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation or the State Historic Preservation Office, Nye said Tuesday.

A structural assessment conducted six years ago said the cottage was "in an overall good structural condition" but urged several repairs in the basement and exposed first floor framing that went undone, Nye said.

John O'Neill, a board member with the Historic Properties Commission, said for years the cottage has been part of a perpetual "chicken or egg conversation" when it comes to fixing the building or deciding potential uses.

"To try to come up with a figure for what it would take to completely rehab the building largely depends on what its intended use would be," he said. "To stabilize it and mothball it for a while is one thing but, eventually, it has to have some sort of purpose."

O'Neill said the potentially costly renovations and few existing parking spaces make the property less appealing to private developers, so it would be more cost-effective for the town to retain ownership for town functions.

Kristen Widham, the Historical Society president, said it's possible the town could use the cottage as a reading room connected to a new structure with climate controls appropriate for holding historical records and items.

"We're not a bankrupt town," Widham said. "We do have means to control things and we have savvy people who can put together a good plan."



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