CHESTER – While the trustees of Spring Hill Farm did not seek a budget this year through the board of selectmen, three potential warrant articles would seek to improve the town-owned farmhouse and give voters the choice of taking on maintenance of the area’s buildings.
The farm is comprised of 400 acres, an 1850s farmhouse, barn and a few outbuildings, and was donated to the town by Muriel Church in hopes that not only would the town be able to enjoy the property after she was gone, but it would also witness and participate in a working farm.
Keeping everything in good shape, however, may be more than a trust created to preserve the place can handle, and periodically the trustees have come to the town for support.
And while the trust does pull in some revenue, that money generally goes back to improving the farm, purchasing equipment, paying veterinary bills for Church’s remaining cows, and other operational concerns like fencing and general maintenance, and for efforts to keep the property open and enjoyable for residents.
Trustee Chuck Myette said the trust was created by Church through sale of other property, so that the operation of the home on Towle Road and care for her remaining animals would not be a burden to the town.
While the majority of speakers on the property have argued that it makes sense to keep the trust intact to help with operations, some say the trust should be spent down in care for the area, and only then should the town step in to help.
Last year Terry Knowles, assistant director of charitable trusts with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, said that in her long experience, there were few boards of selectmen that don’t seek to take a trust of money like Spring Hill’s.
Selectman Joe Castricone said he knew the town maintained the property, but was disabused of that idea at the Thursday, Feb. 6 meeting.
Two warrant articles this year may seek to settle the issue by asking voters what they want.
One article asks if the buildings on the farm should be placed into the town’s general building maintenance budget to provide funding for unanticipated repairs, maintenance and expenses as determined by the board of selectmen.
The other, which would come into play should the previous one fail, asks to establish a capital reserve fund for the same purpose and to raise and appropriate $10,000 into that fund.
Selectman Jack Cannon said at last week’s meeting that it made sense to codify the argument, noting that there had long been confusion over the process. He said the trust and the will are contradictory at times and the source of some of the confusion.
“This is an attempt, and I understand where you’re coming from, to put to bed a longstanding, it’s not even a disagreement, it’s a difference of opinion, about how these buildings should be cared for,” said Cannon. “Maybe the right way to do it is put it in a warrant article and let the townspeople decide.”
Cannon added that to make an informed decision on the matter, he would like an estimate of annual maintenance and repair costs that the town might expect if it took over that end of things.
The other article being considered for inclusion on the warrant would ask for $12,000 to install blow-in insulation, repair and replace the siding, and paint the farmhouse.
Chair Steph Landau spoke about the benefits Chester residents get from the property, as it’s used for hunting, fishing, horseback riding and hiking. He also noted that because it has remained open space, it is not only nice to look at but has helped avoid the costs that come with development.
Also relating to Spring Hill, its trustees announced that a new tenant has been found for the property, a family with ties to the area and one that will arrive at the farm soon. As the trustees were advertising and interviewing candidates for the property, they received a call from Jay Sweet in Kansas. While searching to relocate because of a job possibility in Concord, Sweet found Spring Hill Farm online and noted that it seemed familiar.
Sweet is the grandson of Muriel Church’s cousin. And in her trust document she specifically names two of her cousins, or their children or grandchildren, stating if possible the land should be used by them. Sweet was close to Church, spending summers at the farm as a teenager, refers to her as Aunt Muriel and spoke at her funeral in 2001.
According to the trustees, Sweet, who grew up on a small dairy farm in Connecticut, has a degree in Animal Science and lives on a small farm with his wife, Angela, and their two daughters. Angela grew up on a small ranch in Kansas.
The trustees are pleased with the new tenant, and members say the family is a perfect fit for the farm. While the lease is not signed yet, plans are for Sweet to move in later this month, followed by his family.