(Host) A year ago, firefighters from 16 departments spent the day after Thanksgiving fighting a fire on Hardwick’s Main Street.
On this first anniversary, there’s new hope for rebuilding. VPR’s Amy Noyes reports:
(Noyes) The fire that gutted the historic Bemis Block had smoldered for nearly six hours before firefighters ever saw flames. By the time the blaze erupted, the town’s reservoir was nearly drained. Pumper trucks tapped into the Lamoille River to save the downtown.
Today, the building that was home to 5 businesses is still boarded up. A banner that hangs across the second story says “Bemis Block Rebuilding in 2006.”
Now, the work is finally getting underway.
Robin Pierce is Executive Director of Lamoille Housing Partnership. He says development partners Housing Vermont and LHP have been determined to get construction underway before the first anniversary of the fire.
(Pierce) “We’re really excited to get this project up and running. It would have been great if it could have been sooner but it couldn’t. To get through all the procedures we had to go through to move forward, and this is where it brought us to.”
(Noyes) The $2.8 million project is funded with public and private money and community grants. Red tape has slowed the renovation effort.
One downtown business has managed to reinvent itself since the fire. Buffalo Mountain Food Coop abuts the Bemis Block. The store was spared from the flames, but it suffered extensive water damage. Barry Baldwin, the Coop’s Collective Coordinator, credits its 800 members with saving their store.
(Baldwin) “Our membership really showed up spontaneously and we started hauling out buckets and buckets of the silt and cleaning the store up and there was mud and silt everywhere.”
(Noyes) The coop had to close its doors in February and move to a temporary location. Baldwin said they expected to only replace the floor and complete some minor repairs. As it turns out, major structural work was also needed. By the time the coop moved back in June, the store had been renovated from top to bottom. The renovations were so successful the Coop is even considering expanding its store into part of the Bemis Block when it reopens.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Amy Noyes.