The town of Essex is searching for cost-effective ways to make one of its oldest and most beloved buildings more energy efficient.

Memorial Hall, built in 1871 to commemorate local Civil War veterans, long served as Essex Center’s town hall before eventually undergoing repairs and alterations in the 1960s to accommodate the Essex Community Players, which still use the building to this day. A bond passed in the late 1980s furthered repairs and improvements so it could be used as a community center, and now the town’s parks and recreation department uses the space for some of its programming.

But the old building has historically been the town’s costliest to heat, with bills totaling $4,000 a year in heating costs. The inefficient heating system creates a logistical challenge for town staff, who must try to keep the building properly warmed for an unpredictable schedule.

“It takes so long to heat up that you can’t turn the heat down to 60 degrees at night and expect if you have something at 8 in the morning that the heat is going to come up in time,” public works director Dennis Lutz said.

With some work already going into insulating the roof, the heating costs dipped to around $2,800 last year, but Lutz said more can be done to make the building more comfortable for its users and easier to maintain.

One project focuses on the duct system, from which heat is discharged into the upper portion of the tall building before being pushed down by fans. For a reasonable price, Lutz said the town could extend the ductwork to the floor and heat the the entire building more efficiently. Other projects carry a hefty price tag, like replacing the old heating system.

The town included some funding toward these features in its fiscal year 2019 capital budget, but Lutz said the exact work plan is still up in the air. He planned to meet with the Essex Energy Committee in the coming weeks to discuss the projects.

For Lutz, the challenge is knowing that while the town could spend a “whole ton” of money to make the building more efficient, the payback might not come for several decades. He said his goal is to balance what he can do at the lowest cost to still get some benefit out of it.

“If you’re only saving a few hundred a year, and you’re putting $10,000 into fixing it, it’s not a good investment,” he said. “Where do you find that magic balance?”