By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT — The Board of Selectmen recently voted 5-0 not to recommend for this month’s Town Meeting that centers on funding for the rehabilitation of the Grange Hall for a community center to be owned by Christ Church United of Dracut.
The unused historic building at 1367 Bridge St. is the subject of Article 11, which looks to see if the town will vote, pursuant to the recommendations of the Community Preservation Committee, to appropriate about $2.2 million for the rehabilitation.
To make the appropriation the treasurer, with approval from selectmen, would be authorized to borrow the money under the Community Preservation Act or another enabling authority. The property is currently owned by the Grange Hall Association.
“It’s an obvious problem and it’s clearly unconstitutional,” said Robert Burke, an attorney who was asked to give a legal opinion on the matter since Town Counsel James A. Hall had a conflict due to representing the church in the past. “No matter how you try to dress it up, this is a gift of a substantial amount of money to a church and it just is against the Massachusetts constitution, which says that there shall be no aid provided by public money to a church or religious organization. That’s the premise that you start with, and it violates that premise.”
Roy Anderson, a member of the church and chairman of two committees involved in the hall’s restoration effort, said selectmen were given bad information. He pointed to a recent case that went to the Supreme Judicial Court that said it was appropriate to allow CPC funds to be utilized in this way, but there were rules around it. Anderson said members of the Grange Hall Association had approached the church to develop the building and do something positive with it.
Officials at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting discussed the article and how it could impact on the town. Town Manager Jim Duggan said he will withdraw the article on Town Meeting floor.