High School, Municipal Building, Town Auditorium


The necessity for additional high school space, together with Webster's desire for a Town Hall, brought about the construction of the unusual and beautiful group of buildings which constitute the present municipal building, auditorium, high school and gymnasium. Although inception was at the town meeting in March 1922, the building was officially dedicated on May 28, 1928.

Using the site of the Bartlett High School and the Town Park, the combination structure was decided upon, with the original school building so altered as to conform to the general building lines.

The School Committee of 1922 presented to voters at the annual meeting the need for additional high school space. They included: Chairman Joseph A. Love, Atty. Francis E. Cassidy, and Herbert C. Branch. The town named a committee to study with them and report at a later meeting.

In March 1923, the town voted to purchase the properties that stood within the three-sided square bounded by Main, Church and Negus streets adjacent to Bartlett High, with $75,000 appropriated for the purpose. These included several large homes on Main and Church streets, as well as some on Negus Street. An additional $15,000 was needed the next year to settle claims on property.

The Building Committee, organized in September 1924, with the school committee and study group, and consisted of the following members: Chairman Joseph A. Love; Supt. of Schools Chester R. Stacy, secretary; Francis E. Cassidy, Herbert C. Branch, William C. Klebart, Alphege E. Plasse, John W. Dobbie, Rev. Anthony A. Cyran, George J. Brunnell, Spaulding Bartlett, Joseph P. Love and John E. Goggin.

Sixty architects attended a conference in March 1925, and the town voted $5000 for preliminary sketches and plans. The following March voters authorized Selectmen to borrow $450,000 in excess of the debt limit and appropriated $650,000 for the purpose of construction.

M.A. Dyer of Worcester, was chosen as the architect. Situated in the center of town the building was built on the site of one of Webster's first stores, the Wiswall Block. Built in the early 19th century, the block was bought by John D. Stockwell in 1842 and moved to where it stands today on the corner of School St. and Main St. Construction was started in May 1926. One of the largest neo-classic buildings built at its time, it was built with enough bricks, according M.A. Dyer, "to erect a sidewalk from Webster to Worcester". Before the building was finished, the town and the committee sustained a loss in the death of the chairman, Atty. Joseph A. Love, who died on July 11, 1927. The chairmanship was filled by John E. Goggin.

In November 1927, an additional appropriation for $65,000 was made to cover cost of furnishings for the Junior High, Town Offices and Auditorium. The high school itself was greatly altered so as to make it more harmonious with the new municipal building. An entire new wing was added which connects with the rear of the auditorium and its hipped roof was raised and leveled. The clock and tower which was originally on Bartlett High School was then moved to the roof of the municipal building where it remain today.

In the late 1920's "times were poor," according to area-resident Helen Hanley who was a young woman at the time the building was erected. She remembers that Mr. Love was determined to build a fine municipal building and saw to it that a fair amount of marble got put into the building. Consequently residents during these years called the new municipal building "Love's Folly".

Although few people realize it, the Auditorium was constructed as a memorial to those who gave service in war, and bronze placques in the rotunda bear their names. The auditorium, at capacity, seats 1638 persons, including the balcony and stage.

The basement of the building was originally designed as a banquet hall, with a fully equipped kitchen, with smaller rooms at the front to be used as a Veterans' Room, and as storerooms. For many years, banquets were held in these quarters and later during the 1930's the banquet hall was converted to a Youth Center under WPA supervision. The basement was also used as headquarters for the Air Force Reserve and also the Civil Defense in later years.

After World War II, the National Guard took over the entire basement as their headquarters under lease by the government. They relinquished the quarters upon completion of the Armory on Ray St. in 1957. Later the rooms were leased by the Selectmen to the Air Force Reserve.

The Auditorium, situated between the Municipal offices and the high school has well served the purpose for which it was constructed -- a town hall for meetings, a place for social functions on a community basis, and an assembly hall for the high school. The three-fold building, school, town hall and auditorium can all be in use at the same time without activities encroaching upon one another.

 


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