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Baxter Arts Centre overcomes snag in construction to make building accessible

Work is under way to make Bloomfield’s Baxter Arts Centre building fully accessible – an idea that’s been talked about since the Don Baxter Memorial Building was purchased by the community from the County in 2011.

When the the old steps, flower bed and cistern were removed, Larry Spencer, who is overseeing the renovation project, says a snag was unveiled.

“When the Baxter Arts Centre was built in 1946, the footings that support the front wall of the building were not constructed below the frost line,” he said. “Left this way it is possible that the soil holding up the footings and as a consequence, the front wall will gradually fail. A solution has been found to correct this and is currently under way.”

Gabriele Cole, program manager, notes that since 2017, at least five conceptual designs were developed.

“Up until then, the Baxter Arts Centre was long on enthusiasm and commitment to the idea but short on know-how and funds. A close to final design was needed to solicit money to build the project.”

Cole says the real work of making the building accessible began in November 2019, when an application to the Huff Family Fund was supported by the County Foundation. The money allowed the centre to hire engineers to refine the design and a budget for the project was developed to guide fundraising efforts in early 2020.

As more became known about the building through assessments of its components, the project became more than just a gently sloped walkway.

“It evolved to include the demolition of the crumbling concrete stairs, landing, rain water cistern and retaining wall for the existing flower bed. The concrete used to construct these parts of the building in 1946 was badly deteriorated and, in some cases, had shifted out of place.”

A new landing and stairs, a barrier-free walkway, flower beds, steel railings and electronic activated doors are to replace the older components being demolished.

“A canopy at the front door is an addition that will provide visitors with weather protection. And the sidewalk owned by the Baxter Arts Centre that runs between Stanley and Main Streets will be rebuilt.”

Roughly half of the estimated project cost is being covered by a successful grant application to the Parrott Foundation announced in April.

In July 2020, an application had been made to the Federal Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF) but the group was notified the fund had run out of money.

“Over a year later, long after the EAF application had been forgotten, the centre received an email and phone call in September 2021. The news from the EAF was the project was being granted an amount that nearly matched the funds provided by the Parrott Foundation. Now, Baxter was close to the target set by their project budget.

A second application to the Huff Family Fund was made in early 2021, focused on half the shortfall the project was facing at the time as the remaining amount could be found in the local community based on the support provided to the centre in the past.

“Given the centre is in the early stages of soliciting bids to build the project and a contractor has yet to be selected to do the work, the amount of the individual grants or the combined total available to the centre will remain confidential until a contract has been signed.”

The Baxter Arts Centre is a creative space for making art and will soon serve as a community gathering place without limitations.

“As it’s become affectionately known, The Baxter can now focus its attention on enhancing its post pandemic programming so the community can continue to learn more about the arts.”

The building was built by J. Edwin Baxter as a cafeteria for employees of his Baxter Canning Company, across the street. It was also used as a village hall for events and became the centre of operation when the factory burned in 1964, while rebuilding was under way. It was also used as a warehouse for sale of discount cans and a bunkhouse for migrant workers. It closed in 1994 and named after his son, Don Baxter.

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