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Stevens-Buswell building's renovation continues in Bedford

BEDFORD - Over the years, the Stevens-Buswell building has been many things to many people - a two-room schoolhouse, a town office building, a district court, a police department and a museum. And soon, it will assume yet another function: community center and meeting place for a variety of groups and organizations.

The North Amherst Road building that was once in danger of being torn down is being renovated and repurposed thanks to the Bedford Historical Society, whose members have spearheaded the effort to reclaim it as an all-purpose community center.

The reclamation project - which could cost about $500,000 when the work is completed - is being done in phases. All of the money spent to refurbish the 92-year-old building has come from private sources, including grants and community donations and robust fundraising.

"We're finishing up some plumbing work in the basement, and we're almost done with the heating and cooling system," said Joan Reeves, co-president of the historical society. "We're estimating about $200,000 more to get the building open, and that should complete the second phase."

Reeves and other members of the historical society last week gave town councilors an update on the renovation project.

The three-phase project began in 2010, said Reeves, with the raising of $105,000 for the purpose of stabilizing the building and paying for asbestos abatement. Phase two, which will cost $341,000, is about one-third of the way complete, Reeves said. "We still have a lot more work to do, but we're moving along," she said.

The Stevens-Buswell School building is owned by the town, but the historical society is leasing the property for a five-year term. The plan, according to Reeves, is to have the building fully operational by the end of the five years. The Historical Society is about halfway through its lease term, Reeves said.

As with any large-scale renovation, surprises always alter the construction timetable. "Last summer we discovered big boulders down in the basement where we were going to put the elevator shaft," explained Reeves. She said chemical explosives had to be used to remove the large stones.

Once the second phase is complete, it will allow for the building's first floor to be opened up for use. "We envision all kinds of groups using the building," Reeves said. "Right now, the town hall and our library are very tightly booked, and so there is not a lot places for groups to meet."

The third phase will include putting in the electrical wiring and completing the finish carpentry.

There was a time when the building was in danger of being razed, said Reeves. The historical society stepped in to call attention to the building's historical significance. In addition to serving as a schoolhouse, the building was also a district court and at one time a home to the police department. The building got its name - Stevens-Buswell - from two World War I veterans from Bedford.

The last use of the building was as the Marconi Museum. The museum was dedicated to the life and work of inventor Gugliemo Marconi, considered the father of wireless radio. When that museum went out of business, the building was boarded up and not used again until the historical society launched the project to refurbish and re-open it as a community center.

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