Windham’s Odd Fellows/Rebekah Lodge on Roosevelt Trail near Varney Mill Road may soon be sold to real estate developer Kaile Warren, who plans to convert the building into an upscale arts and community center. The former owner of the national Rent-A-Husband handyman chain has a pending agreement with Lake Pine Association, owners of the hall, which is currently operated as Pinea Rebekah Lodge. Warren says he will seek contract zone status for the property to accommodate plans that include community events and an approximately 1,200 square foot addition to the back of the building to be used as a theater venue.
Although a “work in progress,” Warren plans to name his venture FACE, an acronym for function, arts, culture and events, and foresees a high end premier location for theater productions, business seminars, a farmers’ market and a fundraising facility for local non-profits. A gazebo and garden would be added for weddings and similar celebrations. Culturally, Warren envisions opportunities for local artists and multi-cultural speakers to “broaden our understanding of each other.” He said fees would be assessed for each event depending on the type and size.
Jonathon Miele, a member of the Windham Center Stage Board of Directors, said he sees advantages to the FACE venue over their present location in the Windham Town Hall gym, but hastens to point out that the full board has not yet addressed the issue.
The building, a large Quonset style structure in deteriorating condition, will undergo minimal changes in order to be “…sensitive to its history. It’s been an important part of the community and I want to maintain that tradition,” said Warren. He pointed to the three interlocking ovals over the front door (friendship – love – truth). “I’m going to keep that.” Along with some interior renovations, Warren plans an Odd Fellows/Rebekah history wall, or corner, that would display information and artifacts relating to the Order’s nearly 60 year history.
Janet Waterhouse, a Lake Pine Association trustee, said the all-male Odd Fellows terminated its meeting about 10 years ago due to the aging of its members. The women of Pinea Rebekah continue to function but, according to Waterhouse, the expenses and maintenance are now “…too much, given the age of most of our members,” which now numbers only eight to 10. The organization contributes to Windham charities through various fundraising activities. The last official charitable act (from the current building) will be the delivery of teddy bears to Windham Police for children involved in scary situations, such as car crashes. Waterhouse said the Rebekahs will continue to function in a rented hall or in private homes.
Referring to the current building, “It’s hard to give it up.” Despite the move, she said, the members and trustees will likely be pleased with Warren’s plans to maintain it for community service. And she added that she is pleased the architectural integrity will remain largely unchanged, recalling that the original Odd Fellows, known as Lake Shore Lodge, were Windham farmers who planned the structure to look barn-like.
One significant change to the front of the building would be the elimination of the long handicap ramp that stretches across half the front of the hall and down the side. Warren is proposing an elevator accessible from the parking lot.
Warren feels the contract zone designation, which will be subject to town council and planning board approval, is critical to the success of FACE. He maintains the current residential/commercial zone is restrictive to the visitor/parking ratio and to the setback requirement for the planned addition. Planning Director Ben Smith agreed the FACE plan would “be a great use for that building,” and that a contract zone would allow the town to deal with only that property without affecting the rest of the area. Warren expects to submit a contract zone application to the council this week. If accepted, the proposal would go to the planning board which would conduct a public hearing. If approved, it would then require final approval from the town council.
Warren anticipates the process would take at least 90 days and is hopeful that renovations and construction could begin over the winter.