With major renovation, Ridgefield's Meetinghouse wants to become 'where everybody knows your name'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — The town's Meetinghouse — a gathering place that sits on over 5 acres at 605 Ridgebury Road — will soon undergo a major renovation that includes adding a coffee shop and market, a nature school or farm, and a designated arts and wellness space.

Additional renovations planned for The Meetinghouse include the restoration of the wetland’s paths, extension of the Pollinator Pathways, and the creation of a community garden, a cutting garden and a community labyrinth.

No new space is being added to The Meetinghouse. Instead, “we will be repurposing the space for the 21st century,” said Deb Rundlett, Meetinghouse director.

The Meetinghouse plans to rent out space at its facility to those who share their “core values tied to the flourishing of people and planet,” Rundlett said. “One of those partners will either work the land (farm) or nurture a love of the land (nature school); that is not yet finalized.”

As part of the project, The Meetinghouse barn is going to be entirely gutted to make it sustainable, “and at least push us toward net zero impact on the environment,” Rundlett said.

In terms of sustainability, she added the buildings at The Meetinghouse represent 39 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions including 28 percent in operational emissions and 11 percent in building materials and construction.

"So, our goal in reducing carbon emissions on The Meetinghouse campus is tied to our commitment to sustainability,” Rundlett said. “We want to be green and efficient, we want to be a part in moving toward net zero emissions.”

Phase 1 of the project, which is complete and involved the historic restoration of the Meetinghouse, is being funded in part by Preservation Connecticut — a nonprofit organization — along with individual donors. The exterior was $65,000, with a $15,000 grant coming from Preservation CT.

Demolition and construction will begin once all the funds for the project is raised, Rundlett said. She added, however, that the work is expected to begin this fall.

‘Center of the community’

The Meetinghouse, which was established in 1760 and is also the location of the Ridgebury Congregational Church, historically has been “the center of the community,” Rundlett said.

She added The Meetinghouse used to be the center of Ridgefield “before the trains came in. It was the place where the community gathered to make every single decision — to enter the Revolutionary War, to send somebody to the First Continental Congress, to support the Amistad captives in New Haven, to participate in the Underground Railroad.

She said the community envisions many things when it comes to the future of the Meetinghouse — all of which she's hoping to make come true.

“First and foremost, (people) wanted a place that was both a coffee shop but also a market, where, if you ran out of milk, you can actually send your 13-year-old to run over and pick up a carton of milk or eggs, or some of those basic essentials — as opposed to getting in a car and driving into town 5 1/2 miles or driving down the hill to (larger department stores), when all you needed was that one thing,” she said.

Additionally, she said the community also wants a place that “could just be a gathering place.”

She referenced the 1980’s TV series “Cheers” and the show's theme song, “Where everybody knows your name.” She said she envisions The Meetinghouse serving the Ridgefield community in the same way Cheers did to its community.

“It’s a space where people can gather for all conversations — the fun ones, the easy ones, but also the tender ones, the hard ones,” Rundlett said.

Once the renovations are complete, she said she looks forward to being able to "walk across the campus and see people and know them by name and know something of their story — their heart's desire. What is their yearning for this community and what does it mean to flourish in the 21st century?”

Rundlett said she hopes the changes to The Meetinghouse will enable it to last many generations into the future.

"We want to do something that would be able to sustain for the next 80 years," she added.

sandra.fox@hearstmediact.com 203-948-9802