Opinion

Bridging a gap in Nahant

Ellingwood Chapel’s restoration is good news for Nahant residents and it underscores their love for town history. But Town Administrator Antonio Barletta said the even better news for Nahant is the fact that Community Preservation Act money helped pay for the $162,000 restoration.

From Barletta’s perspective at the local government level, Community Preservation is a tool designed to help communities “maximize their dollars” to preserve, even save, pieces of local history like Ellingwood Chapel.

Built 100 years ago in the middle of Greenlawn Cemetery, the chapel looms over the surrounding graves. Ellingwood, in the words of architectural preservationist Lynne Spencer, is “meant to evoke timeless architecture.”

The chapel’s restoration is underpinned by town residents’ dedication and a commitment to pass on the best of Nahant to future generations. But noble ideas and good intentions are hollow promises if there is no money to pay for them.

Massachusetts legislators grasped that reality when they put the Community Preservation Act on state law books in 2000. The act is a versatile and utilitarian tool equipped to help communities tackle different projects beyond their financial reach without state assistance.

Community Preservation money can be used to help pay for open space projects. It can be used to help create affordable housing in a community and develop outdoor recreation projects. It can also be spent on historical restoration projects like Ellingwood Chapel.

State Rep. Dan Cahill recently praised Community Preservation as a tool for preserving affordable housing. Barletta said the Massachusetts Legislature takes the act seriously enough that it is willing to increase the amount of state money dedicated to Community Preservation.

As its name implies, Community Preservation is rooted in the needs of cities and towns with local governing bodies voting to adopt the act in order to be eligible for money distributed from the Community Preservation Trust Fund.

In Ellingwood Chapel’s case, $112,000 allocated by 2018 Town Meeting to repair the chapel’s stone outer walls leveraged state money to help make the project a reality. Barletta thinks of Community Preservation money as a bridge that spans the yawning gap between a wish list of local projects and the money needed to pay for them.

Bridging that gap is the difference-maker in project plans sitting on a shelf and a city or town’s ability to protect a priceless building like Ellingwood Chapel.

Local governments and the residents they serve are the Community Preservation Act’s foundation. But they are also the advocates who must make sure state legislators continue to fund the act and help communities bridge the money gap.

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