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The Commons at Central Hall ceremonially opened to the public

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — After a decade of efforts to preserve and rebuild the more than 135-year-old Central Hall on East Main Street, the new look and renamed The Commons at Central Hall was formally opened to the public with a ceremony on the afternoon of May 12. The facility will now house an event center on the upper level and senior center and adult day services center is planned for the future on the first floor.

“Wow,” Dr. Lesley Fernow, president of the board of directors for The Commons at Central Hall, said at the start of the ceremony in the event center. After a brief pause she continued, “We did it,” as her remarks were met with a round of applause.

“It’s really with incredible joy and incredible humility I welcome you all to the opening of The Commons at Central Hall,” Dr. Fernow said. She said there are hundreds of residents in the region to thank for their help in the project, as they focused on possibilities rather than obstacles.

Dr. Fernow said the Friends of Central Hall (FOCH) envisioned “a revitalized community center from restoring and preserving this fabulous building.” She said years ago FOCH worked to raise $25,000 to keep the building open “while a vision was born to create the Maine Highlands Senior Center.”

The senior center would provide programming aimed at the elder residents of the region and the first floor would also be the site of an adult day services center. Dr. Fernow said the directors are still looking for a partner agency to make this a reality.

“We are dropping senior center from our name and it will be known going forward as The Commons at Central Hall,” she said.

Dr. Fernow said she wanted to recognize FOCH and the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society, the town of Dover-Foxcroft including Town Manager Jack Clukey, municipal employees, the selectmen and in particular the countless hours put into the project by Select Chair Elwood Edgerly. She thanked crews from the Charleston Correctional Facility, “This hall, they did a huge amount of work here.”

The project architect and local contractors were thanked, as were the nearby Methodist and Baptist churches for coping with the construction over multiple years.

“I’m grateful to our board of directors for their thousands of hours,” Dr. Fernow said. “And finally I’m thrilled to have you. The community has really been what’s made this happen and made it worthwhile. We will to continue to need your support as we move into our operational phase.”

Maine USDA Rural Development Director Timothy P. Hobbs began his remarks by saying he has driven by The Commons at Central Hall previously. “I did not know what to expect but I didn’t expect this,” he said, impressed. “What it really is is the community, it’s people who put in the time and the tears, and it’s not for them it’s for others. Look at how much you have accomplished so far.”

“There is a little piece left and we are going to try to work with you to figure out how we can get that accomplished as well,” Hobbs said, as his comment was met with applause.

He said about $91,000 from USDA programs helped with handicapped accessibility, kitchen space, fire escapes and sprinklers for The Commons at Central Hall, along with the many partnerships.
“It was neat walking in and seeing all those names on the bricks, that sort of thing interests me,” Hobbs said as the walkway to The Commons at Central Hall is lined with bricks engraved with the names of brick sponsors. He said some of the bricks feature “the names of those who came before and may no longer be here.”

“The number of donors and amount of money raised does not define success,” Hobbs said. He said instead success is determined by “the quality of life and how we impact the quality of life, and this is one of those facilities that’s done that.”

Following the presentation of letters from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Angus King, I-Maine and U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, Dr. Fernow said she wanted to thank the Center Theatre. “All you see here and all the events you will see moving forward are done through the Center Theatre,” she said as the Theatre will manage the event center.

Maine Development Foundation President & CEO Yellow Light Breen said, “I think when I was here five years ago it was just a hollowed out old building.” Breen mentioned touring the structure with Dr. Fernow and Chris Maas, who today is the board treasurer, and hearing of their plans.

“This is one less vacant building in Dover-Foxcroft,” Breen said as the Maine Development Foundation is working across the state to help revitalize communities.

Sue Mackey Andrews, president of the Helping Hands with Heart initiative who lives in Dover-Foxcroft, said she woke up that Saturday morning thinking “if these walls could talk, they would tell us about concerts and theatre productions and many days of long ago.”

She said the walls were there for numerous town meetings, graduations, basketball games, dances on Saturday nights and teen dances on Friday evenings.

Mackey Andrews said her two daughters practiced gymnastics in the very room where the audience was seated. “There are many, many wonderful memories we can reflect on here and to the future for many more memories,” she said.

“Chris (Maas) had a vision to restore this building,” Mackey Andrews said. “Despite the naysayers, his can-do attitude was infectious.”

She said Dr. Fernow soon came on board to create a vision for how Central Hall could serve older residents of the area, with the facility having multiple uses for multi-generational activities.

“Elwood (Edgerly) brought his incredible talents and resources to make this project a reality,” Mackey Andrews said. “We will never know his in-kind contributions.”

Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville had a Legislative Sentiment for the grand opening, and he was joined on May 12 by Rep. Norman Higgins, I-Dover-Foxcroft and Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford.

“The invitation says this is a place where memories are made, and the walls could sure tell some tales,” Davis said.

He said many had a hand in The Commons at Central Hall project and four individuals will be receiving sentiments, Dr. Richard Swett of the board of directions, Dr. Fernow, Maas and Edgerly. “I believe without those fine folks chances are we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Davis said.

Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum said he first visited The Commons at Central Hall two weeks prior when a traveling exhibit on Anne Frank was on display. He said students from the SeDoMoCha School across town where visiting and learning.

“I thought really the most important thing about this place is you are honoring the past but more importantly looking to the future,” Kestenbaum said.

“It’s great the name is The Commons because there is more in common than divides us,” he said before reading his poem “Holding the Light.”

The ceremony concluded with those present heading outside for a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Buzzelli.

Maas showed those gathered on lawn a framed document from 1881 with the signatures of those contributing toward the $8,000 needed to build Central Hall more than 135 years ago. He said bricks close to the East Main Street sidewalk feature these same names.

“They had the faith to come together and build this community center,” Maas said.

“This is just more evidence that there is nothing that is not restorable, there is nothing that is not redeemable,” Buzzelli said. “It just takes a group of people with focus.”

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
THE COMMONS AT CENTRAL HALL GRAND OPENING — The Commons at Central Hall Board of Directors President Dr. Lesley Fernow cuts the ceremonial ribbon to conclude the grand opening ceremony on Saturday, May 12 for the facility at East Main Street in Dover-Foxcroft. Looking on is board treasurer Chris Maas and board member Sylvia Dean and Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Buzzelli, right. The more than 135-year-old building now houses an event center on the second floor and the first floor will be the site of a senior center and adult day services center.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
REVITALIZED CENTRAL HALL — After a decade of efforts to preserve and rebuild the more than 135-year-old Central Hall on East Main Street in Dover-Foxcroft, the new look and renamed The Commons at Central Hall was ceremonially opened to the public on the afternoon of May 12.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
LEGISLATIVE SENTIMENTS — The Commons at Central Hall Board of Directors President Dr. Lesley Fernow was presented with a Legislative Sentiment by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville during the facility grand opening on May 12. Sentiments were also presented to Dr. Richard Swett, Chris Maas and Elwood Edgerly for all of their efforts in the project transforming Central Hall.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
THE COMMONS AT CENTRAL HALL EVENT CENTER — The new-look second floor of The Commons at Central Hall features an event center managed by the Center Theatre. The space has already hosted several events with many more to come.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
A FUTURE PLACE FOR SENIORS — The first floor of The Commons at Central Hall will serve as a senior center and an adult day services center. Facility officials are still searching for a partner agency to help make the adult day services center a reality.

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