GARDAR, N.D. – The Gardar Township Hall, built at the end of the 19th century, is getting a renovation that members of the community hope will ensure its existence in the 22nd.
Volunteers have remodeled the hall, built in 1898, and are constructing an adjoining addition that will house a kitchen, restrooms and office.
About four years ago, Gardar Township Board members were considering tearing down the township hall, which had become an eyesore. That's when Tom Mullen and Bruce Langerud suggested that maybe it could be renovated.
“We only had a couple of buildings left on Main Street and we wanted to save them,” Mullen said.
Mullen, who lives near the tiny community of nine people about 80 miles northwest of Grand Forks, also had fond memories of playing basketball in the wooden-floored building as a boy. He wants future generations to make memories there.
“It was incredibly fun, playing basketball in there with your buddies,” Mullen said.
Langerud, owner of a construction business, looked at the hall to determine if it could be saved. What he saw wasn’t too promising.
“It was on the brink of being gone,” Langerud said.
But that didn’t mean it was a hopeless project. When he was younger, Langerud worked for several years with a carpenter who restored old buildings. Langerud learned the trade from him.
“I had done enough work with him to say, ‘We can do this,’” Langerud said.
The township board, though dubious, agreed not to tear down the hall and instead to allow Mullen and Langerud to round up volunteer laborers and seek donors to pledge money for the project.
The restoration project began with digging new footings and pouring a foundation several feet west of the town hall, then jacking up the building and moving it to the new site. Once the hall was on a solid foundation, volunteers began repairing it, including putting new siding on the exterior, installing new windows and remodeling the entry.
The volunteers also made a new stairway to the basement where the "bleachers" that were used during basketball games are stored. The bleachers, A-frame sawhorses with laid boards on top, were placed along the sidelines of the basketball court, Mullen said.
The township hall was used for Gardar High School games until it closed in 1961. The hall's basketball backboards and the antique timing clock are being restored and will be placed back in the hall after the work is finished.
The hall has a history that began long before it was used for township activities. The building was constructed in 1898 as a lodge for the Independent Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization based in Toronto, Mullen said.
“That changed in about 10 years. The IOF decided to go with the Ancient Order of United Outdoorsmen,” he said.
In the 1940s, the fraternal organization became Mutual Life Insurance, which had a building in Fargo. The company no longer had a use for the hall in Gardar so the company sold it to the Gardar Township School District. When the school was redistricted in 1961, it sold the hall to Gardar Township. The hall was used until about 20 years ago, when it began to fall into disrepair.
Volunteers originally estimated the repairs would cost about $60,000, but that amount has grown to about $100,000.
“We thought, we’ve gone this far, we might as well do this and that,” Mullen said. Part of “this and that“ includes the adjoining Eldhus addition, which includes a new kitchen and restroom next to the hall.
The refurbished township hall already has been used for community events, including last summer’s 90th birthday celebration of former North Dakota Lt. Gov. Rosemarie Myrdal, who lives near Gardar. Volunteers hope to complete the Eldhus by this spring. Then the Gardar Township Hall will be ready to host a variety of events.
“It could be used for birthday parties, graduations, wedding dances, family reunions,” Mullen said.
“We hope this building will be around here for the next 100 years and that future generations will use it,” he said.