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Reclaiming the Union Co-op Bakery

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When the Barre Historical Society acquired the Union Cooperative Bakery in 2004, the building was a shell, with a cracked brick wall, no utilities, and holes in the roof. For many years, it was used by granite companies to store their equipment. But one day the Barre Historical Society began to fantasize about returning the building to what the Italian granite workers in 1913 wanted—a wood-fired bakery for the Barre community.

Because the building is on the National Register for Historic Buildings, different parts of it had to remain as historic elements during the five-year renovation. The society also did not want to disrupt the inside brick walls, where there were indications of the original wood-fired oven, which had disappeared.

And where did this wood fired oven go? One day, as we were building the new oven with the help of Daniel Wing, an older man came to the door and said he had helped dismantle the original oven and that it was laid down on the floor and covered with concrete. Mystery solved!

One of our big challenges was figuring out how to renovate the building so it would be safe from flood damage because the bakery is in a flood plain. We decided to let the flood waters move in and out of the building through “flood flaps.” With the flood level being three-and-a-half feet above floor level, insulation that could dry out and other water-resistant materials were used in the lower four feet of the walls, and all electrical and other mechanical equipment are at least four feet off the floor.

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Our next big hurdles were electric, water, and sewage. With the help of Barre City workers, we located a water line just feet away from the bakery that had run to factories once behind the bakery. The sewage was more difficult because the old line to the street was corroded. Instead of digging up the parking lot, we were given permission to go through the basement of the Old Labor Hall.

That might sound simple, but getting through the large granite foundation stones was incredibly hard. Fortunately we are in a place where workers know about granite. We made it through the foundation stone at the back of the building but hired a granite worker with a 24-inch drill to go through the stone at the front. He barely made it. Since the city had contracted to do drainage work on Granite Street, we worked with the company to connect the sewer. We were never so happy to see a toilet successfully flush!

Renovation of the building also helped us meet our goal of working with young people, and students worked side-by-side with professionals, learning skills required to renovate an historic structure. YouthBuild—a nonprofit organization that provides education, counseling, and job skills to unemployed young American adults—has been involved in rebuilding the bakery from the beginning, replacing the roof and repairing the brick walls.

The Central Vermont Career Center had students from its electrical program shadowing and learning from a master electrician, and students built the cubbies for bakery workshop participants. U-32 students worked with maple from a local family to build the wooden tables in the bakery.

Having youths work with professionals has helped teens build on their knowledge, skills, and values. One of the YouthBuild teens said teens often don’t have a good work ethic, and projects like this help to reclaim that ethic.

In mid-October, our dream was realized, with the opening of Rise Up Bakery, headed by baker Jim Haas. Come join us, have some bread, and enjoy the fact that Rise Up Bakery is once again baking bread in a wood fired oven as it did 106 years ago. But also take time to note the hard work of the many dedicated people who brought the historic building back to life.

Carolyn Shapiro is a Labor Hall activist who launched a successful capital campaign to raise the $250,000 needed for renovation.