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    Friday, July 19, 2024

    Preston VFW prepares to reopen with help from friends

    Andrew Thomas, with Maynard Electric, works on lighting at Preston VFW 9452 Wednesday, June 26, 2024. The popular venue is reopening later this summer after a fire gutted the space almost two years ago. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Burned out bar at the Post 9452 Veterans of Foreign Wars in Preston Wednesday, August 31, 2022. (The Day file photo)
    Commander Mike Potter, left, and Bar Manager Kelly Gleason look over the new bar counter at Preston VFW 9452 Wednesday, June 26, 2024. The popular venue is reopening later this summer after a fire gutted the space almost two years ago. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Commander Mike Potter talks about renovations at Preston VFW 9452, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. The popular venue is reopening later this summer after a fire gutted the space almost two years ago. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Andrew Thomas, with Maynard Electric, works on lighting at Preston VFW 9452 Wednesday, June 26, 2024. The popular venue is reopening later this summer after a fire gutted the space almost two years ago. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Preston ― With help that ranged from national celebrities to U.S. Naval Submarine School students to local residents and construction workers, the Preston VFW will soon reopen after it was gutted by fire almost two years ago.

    The lower-level bar is expected to reopen for members this week after a first-phase renovation costing about $600,000, with a grand opening celebration slated for sometime around Aug. 1. Renovations to the upstairs banquet hall and small kitchen will be part of a second phase not yet scheduled.

    Preston VFW Post 9452 at 28 Spicer Road had been a focal point for community events for decades, hosting Christmas and Easter parties for children, scout functions, fundraisers for local organizations, Red Cross blood drives and numerous weddings, showers and parties.

    The post, which has 147 total members, about 50 of them active, hosted free meals for veterans on Christmas, Easter and July 4.

    “In 2011, we were the recipient of the National Community Service Award,” Post Commander Mike Potter said.

    That all changed on Aug. 30, 2022, when an accidental fire left the lower-level bar a charred ruin and a portion of the upstairs banquet hall damaged. The building was unoccupied at the time, and no one was injured.

    As the insurance settlement pended, VFW officials set to work to design renovations that now required the 100-year-old building, a former tractor store before the VFW acquired it in 1958, to be brought up to modern building and fire safety codes.

    After 19 months of design work with architect HELM Architecture & Design of Niantic, contractor Mattern Construction of Baltic — whose founder George Mattern hails from Preston — started construction. The entire lower level was gutted, electrical and HVAC replaced, floors ripped up and all but one support column replaced.

    VFW leaders wanted to keep the one undamaged 1958 column as a historical keepsake, said Kevin Lathrop, job site superintendent for Mattern Construction.

    “Even before the fire, it kind of felt like a basement in here. It was dark,” said Ken Hirt, chairman of the House Committee in charge of building maintenance.

    Now, anyone entering the main door to the bar from the rear parking lot will be greeted by bright light shining in from four new windows and doors with glass panes. The bar now stands at the rear wall, instead of the side, giving more space for tables and chairs in front. To the left, the VFW plans to bring in two pool tables, two dart boards, a Keno set-up, juke box and an ATM.

    With two pool tables, the post will be able to host pool leagues and tournaments, Potter said.

    Hirt had many people to thank, starting with Potter and sisters Kelly Gleason, the post bar permittee, and Kristen Gleason, an auxiliary member.

    Kristen Gleason had the idea to contact the TV show “Bar Rescue” for help. The show’s host, Jon Taffer, enlisted his designer, Izzy Kharasch, who helped design the new bar and connected the VFW with sources for deeply discounted “Cadillac level” bar equipment, stools, taps, coolers and materials, Potter said.

    “Without Mike, Kristen and Kelly, I don’t know where we would be,” Hirt said.

    The surrounding community did not forget the VFW’s past generosity. When the post put out a call for a Day of Caring on June 1 to clear nearly two years of overgrown brush and debris from the yard, about 50 people turned out. Submarine School students joined residents, local scouts and volunteers from the Mattern Construction team to help make the post look presentable.

    Sub School students returned to continue the work on June 29.

    Potter said it’s too early to start scheduling events again, especially with the upstairs banquet hall renovations to come. There is no cost estimate for that work yet. There might be a little insurance money left over to apply to that project, Potter said.

    So, the first events at the reopened VFW could be for the post itself, since immediately upon reopening the bar, post leaders will begin fundraising for the second phase to renovate the upper-level banquet hall and kitchen.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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