High school art teacher injecting life back into former Belgium Town Hall
The Village of Belgium Plan Commission unanimously approved a conditional-use permit Monday to allow an art studio and gallery in the former Belgium Town Hall.
Cedar Grove-Belgium High School art teacher Don Urness and his wife Eileen purchased the hall this summer with plans for the studio and gallery. Both are artists outside their full-time jobs.
Town government moved to the new Town Hall at 171 Main St. last year after a $350,000 donation from Belgium Family Dental, which owns the building and has its dental practice in the complex. The town paid $110,000 for the building.
The town put the old hall up for sale in spring.
At a public hearing Monday, members spoke in support of Urness’ project to renovate and preserve the 122-year-old building.
“It’s a really good thing for the community,” commission member Don Gotcher said. “I thank you for doing this.”
“It’s preserving a historic building,” commission member Vickie Boehnlein added.
The commission restricted the business’ hours to the public to between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Don Urness said he plans to eventually host art exhibits but fitting into those hours shouldn’t be an issue.
Urness said he wants to make the back of the building into an art studio, leaving the front for a gallery featuring a different artist every three or four months.
Urness has been working to update the building this summer, including cleaning out items underneath the structure.
“It is incredible how well preserved it is,” he said. “No signs of rust or rot.”
Urness is in the process of adding a bathroom, which the building never had. Sewer and water are already hooked up.
Work on the building will slow when school starts. Urness said he plans to retire in a few years and commit more time to the building.
Urness said he is looking for photos and anecdotes from the old town hall.
In the meantime, he invites the community to check out the work in progress.
“Stop by, check it out. The door’s always open when we’re there,” Urness said.
Image Information: DON AND EILEEN URNESS bought the former Belgium Town Hall in the Village of Belgium and are turning it into an art gallery. Photo by Sam Arendt