Millbrook turns out
From left, theater designer David Korins, Millbrook Community Partnership CEO Cora Cahan and MCP President Oakleigh Thorne in the Thorne Building. 
Photo by Judith O’Hara Balfe

Millbrook turns out

MILLBROOK — More than 200 residents turned out for a community forum with the Millbrook Community Partnership on Sunday, Nov. 5, to discuss the nonprofit’s latest updates on two of Millbrook’s most visible civic projects: the transformation of the dilapidated Beaux-Arts Thorne Building, once the town’s first public high school, into the Thorne Community Center; and the opening of Bennett Park on the site of the former Bennett College.

The Millbrook Community Partnership (MCP) was formed in 2017 with the sole purpose of repurposing the two derelict sites, which had for decades sat untouched and  moldering at either end of Franklin Avenue.

 Cora Cahan, CEO of MCP, stressed the communal nature of the organization’s plans.

“This will be for the people who live here,” Cahan said. She described the Community Center as a place “where one can ply one’s imagination. There are all kinds of exciting possibilities.” 

When MCP asked local residents what they felt that Millbrook needed some three years ago, residents responded that they wanted a communal gathering space: a community center that would further education, culture and the community spirit.

MCP’s renovation of the Thorne building aims to restore the original architecture and overhaul its technological capacity.

What will become the Thorne Community Center abuts the property that was formerly Bennett College, which MCP is now transforming into a 35-acre park. Plans include  a network of trails, a museum, a visitors’ center and an outdoor arts venue.

According to MCP, the Thorne Community Center will include a performance center to show films, dance recitals, and theater; a technology center intended to support public access to digital resources; a kitchen for event catering and culinary lessons; co-working and meeting spaces; and a recording studio.

On Sunday, David Korins of Korins Studio, which will be designing the theater and other spaces in the Center, spoke about the importance of preserving the building’s history in its new design. Korins, whose studio has designed more than 20 popular Broadway productions, said that, often mistakes are made when a building’s past is erased. 

MCP also presented on the three development phases of Bennett Park, two of which have yet to get underway.

They showed slides of the new Greek theater, designed by Lynden Miller; fields  left open for fairs and events; and plans for wooded areas with hiking trails.

A wall made of the stones from Halcyon Hall, a stone tower in a play area for children, and a small bridge are also planned; so is a wildflower meadow and lodging for guest artists. The bandshell will be moved to a new location, and possibly added to.

Also in the future is the new Exmoor Visitors Center, and the Bennett Museum. 

Of the $25 million in gifts initially sought, $18.5 million has already been raised. The Millbrook Tribute Garden made an anchor gift that will continue for 20 years. The Bechtel Osborne Art Gallery, the Donald Tober Culinary Center, the Community Workspace in Memory of David R. Hathaway, and the William Platt Harmonica Practice Studi have also made gifts.

Finally, a triumphant slide went up: “News Flash!,” it read, “As of this very moment the Eastern portion of Bennett Park is officially OPEN!” 

The audience was invited to finish their cider and donuts, take another look at the bones of the building and appreciate the intricate architectural details that will remain, then adjourn to Bennett Park, to see and enjoy the first finished section.

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