SWANTON VILLAGE — Gordon Winters talks about the Veterans Memorial Ace Hardware as if it were a restoration project.

First Winters pointed out fresh brickwork visible atop the building from its front, adding height to what, over the years, became a slowly crumbling façade.

Then, walking the Messenger through the work site, Winters gave the equivalent of a guided museum tour.

The building that will house the Ace was the Memorial Building, initially a gymnasium and bowling alley with an auditorium dedicated to the “sons and daughters who served their country in the second great World War” in 1948.

The finished Ace will have a mezzanine toward the back, similar to the Ace in St. Albans City. But what will distinguish the Swanton Ace is a recreated “Wall of Honor” along that back side, based on recently uncovered photos and a list of honorees from the building’s past.

Winters pointed to the exposed steel beams high above the gravel that currently constitutes the workspace floor, a relic from the building’s creation.

“This is what you’re going to see when you walk in,” Winters said, looking up at the old structure.

The building’s floor now lies between the portion of the building that housed shipping distribution service BMTM and the basement that housed the Swanton Teen Center. Wall paintings from the teen center line portions of the perimeter like old cave art.

Murals created when the teen center was housed there can still be seen in the Memorial Building. (Courtesy of GORDON WINTERS)

Workers removed the floor and cut into the concrete, dropped the concrete down, cut the old beams out, and then spread around 200 truckloads of gravel.

Winters listed two reasons to make the building one floor: first, because the basement was considered contaminated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program, and second, for Americans with Disabilities Act compliancy.

Soon the building’s original windows are going back in.

Workers also found the building’s original lamps, which once lit the Memorial Auditorium’s gym floor.

This is not a quick fix-me-up project.

“This … needed way more work than anyone could even imagine,” Winters said. “Even us.

“We’re getting closer, for sure. If we could have worked through winter, it could have been a little easier.”

Winters’ team has already been at it for about nine months. The village board of trustees signed a purchase and sale agreement with Winters in November 2017, transferring the property for $1 on two hefty conditions: one, that Winters make $300,000 worth of site improvements within two years, and two, that the property’s grand list value is at least $1.3 million after renovations.

“It was going to be a big project soon for the village,” Winters said. “It was something that was going to come up to a lot of money for someone … to repair.”

Finding new housing for the building’s tenants delayed the physical start of the project. The teen center moved to the former Swanton Wayside building, on Blake Street, while BMTM moved to developer David Fosgate’s newly constructed Robin Hood Drive warehouse.

Winters hopes the Ace will open in the late fall.

“Probably really late fall,” he added, as if remembering additional work to be done. “Maybe. Maybe early winter.

“I think we’ve just got a lot of lead time stuff that’s coming, like windows and … things that just take a lot of time.”

And there’s still plenty of work to be done outside. Power lines outside the building will be relocated underground starting next week. Then the village may clear the bank behind the Ace, which leads down to Marble Mill Park.

Construction vehicles spread stone across the interior of the future Ace Hardware in Swanton. (Courtesy of GORDON WINTERS)

“It will look a lot better when you’re coming back here, when you’re at Marble Mill looking up,” Winters said.

Winters said he’s submitted a request to village officials to rename the street housing the Ace lot. Right now it’s Label Lane. Winters has requested Memorial Way.

There’s greenspace to be added near what will be the Ace’s warehouse, and a dedication to the Prouty family near what will be the entrance to the Ace lot. The Prouty building, which once housed the Prouty IGA, was too decrepit for restoration, and a team demolished it in July 2018.

The Swanton Chamber of Commerce is soon moving — about 20 feet closer to Merchants Row, and the corner of the Depot Street hill. The moving team plans to disconnect the chamber building’s baseplate from the slab, then place steel beams beneath the building, and transport it via crane.

And after all that, there’s still renovations to the building that once housed the Champlain Theater.

“But that’s another story,” Winters said.

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