Donation would save Hollis’ historic Farley Building

HOLLIS – The old school building on Main Street, long known as the White Building, has sometimes been called a white elephant.

But now the town’s original high school has found a champion. Retired businessman Richard Stahl has offered the town a half a million dollars to restore the building and put it to good use.

Stahl said his aim is to preserve what he considers an important historic building.

"This is what Hollis is all about: tradition and character," he said.

Stahl approached Board of Selectmen Chairman Mark LeDoux with his plan, and LeDoux suggested the building might become a high-tech high school – concentrating on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math.

Stahl said that sounds like a good idea, though he doesn’t care what the building is used for, as long as it’s preserved and used for public purposes.

Built in 1877, it is now called the Farley Building, named in honor of Mary Farley, who willed $10,000 to the town with the stipulation that a high school be built within two years of her death.

It hasn’t been used for school purposes, or any purpose, since 2006. The next year, the school district gave it over to the town, and it has been empty since then. Three years ago, voters allocated $50,000 to help stabilize the building and pursue grants for future restoration.

LeDoux has asked Hollis Brookline Superintendent of Schools Andrew Corey and Fire Chief Richard Towne to look at the building and decide how much it would cost to renovate and retrofit it for a STEM program.

LeDoux said he is happy to "quarterback" the project and help the historic building leave its mothball status.

"I consider it a frozen asset," he said, and if the building can be used to further STEM education, even better.

"While they do a great job at the high school … there is a great need for people with engineering skills.

"We will see how the numbers work," LeDoux said, and whether a "critical mass of funds" can be raised to supplement Stahl’s donation.

"This will not happen overnight," said LeDoux, who hopes to have some answers in a month or two.

Stahl’s offer is evidence of how rich Hollis is in people with "healthy civic vision. … It’s very unique in a small community," LeDoux said, to have someone willing to underwrite a project like this, which could be "a game-changer" for Hollis education.

Corey said he would talk to all four Hollis and Brookline school boards about the proposal.

"Obviously, this is a very generous offer from Mr. Stahl," he said. "It’s still very early in the process, and there are a number of steps we have to take."

Stahl, 81, cited his long experience supporting nonprofit organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua. Recently, he donated $150,000 to light up the Broad Street Parkway’s new bridge in Nashua.

That experience has taught him there is federal and state money available, he said, "so the impact on Hollis taxpayers can be minimal."

Stahl, a Hollis resident for nearly three decades, owned the Nashua Ford dealership and was the founder of the city’s former Downtown Lincoln-Mercury dealership. He retired 14 years ago.

"I have no agenda. … I’ll leave it up to the selectmen and the SAU," he said.

Aware that some in town still consider the building a white elephant, Stahl said if the plans spark any political infighting, "all bets are off."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.