A New Beginning for Wheeler Homestead

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Thursday December 04, 2014

The historic brick farmhouse on the 14 acre Wheeler Homestead property at 1100 Dorset Street that has sat vacant since the National Gardening Association departed the premises in February of 2013 is about to welcome new residents! At the December 1 council meeting, representatives from Friends of the Library and Common Roots were present to explain their interest in the property and how leasing the space could enhance their missions. The council unanimously supported City Manager Kevin Dorn in negotiating and executing a lease agreement with the two South Burlington non-profits.

The two organizations will work collaboratively to utilize the community rooms on the first floor for both community library and Common Roots related activities. President of the Friends of the Library Marjorie VonOhlsen said that the space will allow them to increase their fundraising efforts and provide storage for books which are currently being housed at the Faith United Methodist Church. The Friends also have plans to launch a book store. “The Wheeler House is the perfect solution for us,” VonOhlsen said.

Meanwhile, Common Roots will occupy the second floor, which will provide much needed office space as they plan to expand opportunities for additional programming and administrative space for their development director, interns, and program director, Kindle Loomis.

The city purchased the parcel on which the building lies in 1992 for 1.25 million dollars using bond money. In 2005, the National Gardening Association signed a 20 year lease (which they took over from the prior lessee, the Vermont Botanical Society) at a rate of one dollar per year. In November 2012, the NGA ended their lease and moved their operations to Williston in February 2013.

The NGA’s lease specified that they make a series of improvements to the property, including at least twelve different gardens and an education center, in a barn-shaped building with a community green-house attached. The lease also specified that the NGA maintain the 1903 red brick farmhouse, including any necessary repairs to the roof, walls and ceilings. From 2005 to 2012, the NGA invested over $340,000 in maintenance, programs, and oversight which included an outdoor pavilion, tree house, Abenaki wigwam, multiple educational display gardens, wetland gardens, community gardens, and public space for meeting and gathering.

It was not immediately apparent if Common Roots and Friends of the Library would be held to similar terms, but Dorn commended the two organizations for working together to come up with a way to utilize the space collaboratively. He noted that having daily occupants in the building, especially during the winter, will be a great benefit to the city as they have been keeping the heat on and checking on the building while it has been empty.

Soon, while traversing the gardens of the Wheeler Homestead, community members will be able to pop into the historic building for programming and to purchase a book to enjoy in the gazebo. What a warming thought.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent