Amherst seeks bids to remove old VFW building

Amherst is proceeding with plans to redevelop the former Amherst VFW building at 457 Main St. into affordable housing.

Amherst is proceeding with plans to redevelop the former Amherst VFW building at 457 Main St. into affordable housing. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-23-2024 9:46 PM

AMHERST — A contractor to demolish the former VFW building at 457 Main St. is being sought by the town, the next step in redeveloping the site for supportive affordable housing and a permanent homeless shelter.

The town recently posted a bid soliciting companies interested in handling the work, with a Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. deadline to submit an application to remove the structure on the property the town bought for $775,000 from the Earl J. Sanders Post 754 in January 2023.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the hope is to have a contractor raze the building and clear the site, located less than a quarter-mile east of the Emily Dickinson Museum, in the spring, That would allow the property, just under an acre, to be used, on a temporary basis, as a staging area for a contractor hired to handle the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library.

Senior Planner Nate Malloy told the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust at a meeting this month that the exact reuse of the property will be determined in the coming weeks. Amherst will be hiring a consultant in March to lead workshops, over a three-month period, to develop concept designs and the type of programming and services that are desired.

“By July 1, (we hope) to have concept designs and an outline of what we think would be on the site,” Malloy said.

Bockelman said Father Bill’s Place in Quincy, a housing resource center and emergency shelter, remains the model for what the town might like to do. Town officials and members of the affordable housing trust may eventually take a field trip there to see how that site works.

With the guidance from input provided to the consultant, the town would issue a request for proposal, similar to how it procured Way Finders Inc., the Springfield nonprofit, for the redevelopment of the former East Street School and associated properties on Belcherown Road. That $27 million project, with permitting through the Zoning Board of Appeals expected to start in the coming weeks, will feature 78 affordable apartments, with an anticipated opening in 2028.

The VFW building was built mostly by World War II veterans in 1961, and for decades featured a banquet hall for special functions, a dining area and kitchen where the public could order fish and chips on Fridays, and a bar where guests could drink and socialize. The bar, though, closed in February 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic.

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Founded in 1921 by veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I, the VFW Chapter was named after Earl J. Sanders, a U.S. Army private from Amherst who died in 1918 while at the front lines in Germany.

The VFW once sponsored adult and youth sports teams, and numerous trophies and plaques have been displayed in the building.