For anyone in search of a kiddie pool, Shane Marler has an excess supply. The former economic development director for Peabody used them to catch water let in by leaks in the ceilings of the Baker buildings downtown.
Thanks to the completion of a multi-year roofing project for the historic section of Main St., he has no further need of them. The ceilings — and thus the buildings themselves — are secure.
“This project basically ensures that those buildings will be there for generations to come,” Marler said.
The new roofs are the first major step in the process of rehabilitating the buildings where Baker Furniture and Carpet used to be, and to restoring Peabody’s once-vibrant downtown area. Marler, who now serves as director for Peabody Main Street Association, said the group is proud and relieved to have it completed.
“We’ve been scrambling to get that done to buy us time,” Marler said. “Now we can attack this thing, figure out how we want to do it.”
Marler said the grant funding — a Heritage Trust Fund Grant administered by the state, worth matching funds of up to $75,910 — needed to be used by Dec. 31, 2014, lest it be reallocated. PMSA was awarded the grant in February 2012.
Initially PMSA had wanted to tackle the whole building restoration project with one herculean fundraising effort. But after deals with developers falling through and additional grant funding never materializing, the project broke down.
Meanwhile, the buildings, which were vacated by Brock Baker’s furniture and carpet business in June of 2009, had been perpetually deteriorating.
Eventually, Marler said, PMSA had what he called a “come-to-Jesus” meeting, in which it realized that the roofs needed to be a top priority or the buildings would be irreparable.
“Then we really started hustling,” he said.
The city of Peabody, Peabody Community Foundation, Peabody Historical Society, and private donations helped the group reach its fundraising goal, Marler said. The project’s final cost ended up being $139,000.
“We scrounged together every penny we had to get across the finish line,” Marler said. “Our next plan is to find a plan for what goes in there.”
Besides the practical and aesthetic benefits, the roof project buys PMSA more time to plan. With no more leak worries, Marler and volunteer Brent Miles have taken to cleaning out the debris from inside the buildings, which they hope eventually to turn into commercial space and residential space.
“We’re excited about the direction we’re going with the community,” Miles said. “Mayor Larsen and the city council in the past have been great in their help, and we feel confident they’re going to be on board as we move forward.”
Marler said the group has yet to decide whether to undertake a large-scale capital financing effort, or to repair and sell the buildings in phases, one building at a time. He said PMSA met with Hartsook Company, a fundraising consulting group, to explore its options.
Marler stressed the importance of the downtown revitalization to Peabody’s survival as a community.
“We have two options. We either suck it up and we do this project, or we die,” he said. “And death is not an option for us.”
He said he wants to see the Baker buildings occupied by viable businesses, even if it takes his entire life to do so.
“We’re only stewards of these buildings for the generations to come,” Marler said. “They’re not ours.”