MANCHESTER VILLAGE - The music hall in the Manchester Village has some new tenants. Tenants that don't pay rent, make a mess and tend to root through garbage cans for fun. A group of raccoons and feral cats, along with some birds have moved in and it seems they plan to stay.

Linda Hueckle noticed the first cat about 12 years ago. This cat eventually trusted her enough that it would come close and she could feed it. He now lives in her barn, after being trapped and given the proper medical care, including being neutered.

"I'm really more of a dog person," she said.

Hueckle also noticed a white cat living under the front of the building, which she eventually was able to get to the humane society and was adopted.

A group of raccoons and feral cats, along with some birds have moved into the music hall in Manchester Village.
A group of raccoons and feral cats, along with some birds have moved into the music hall in Manchester Village. (Andrew McKeever photo)
This cat was not feral like the others. Now, there area group of three male feral cats that she feeds. Hueckle said she does not leave food out all the time, but rather noticed these cats and decided to feed them. She even tracked them back to the music hall, which is sometimes referred to as the opera house, she said, and noticed raccoons leaving the building as well. Some of the raccoons have since been seen running across the church's roof and steeple.

The opera house is owned by the Equinox Hotel, but is currently under an option with the Vermont Preservation Trust to find a non-profit to help renovate the building. Paul Bruhn, executive director of the organization said it would take about $2 million to rehabilitate the building and make it useful.


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"It's a significant piece of history of the village and we were concerned about the structural issues," he said.

The group had until fall of last year to come up with a buyer who would renovate the building, but was given an extension until this fall. Bruhn said he was not aware of any raccoon infestation in the building.

"We have had a couple of deadlines come and go ... there doesn't seen to be an immediate need to demolish it from the Equinox's standpoint," Bruhn said.

Mark O'Neill, general manager at the Equinox Resort, said that he can't say that there have never been any raccoons in the opera house, but that he has not seen any. He said his office looks out onto the First Congregational Church and he has seen the cats being fed over there.

"We keep traps on every floor of the opera house," he said. "I've never seen a raccoon and if someone's saying there are, it's gossip. That's all it is." When there are problems with rodents like raccoons, O'Neill said he works with Dave Sheldon to get rid of the animals. Sheldon is also an employee of the Manchester department of public works.

"About a year or two ago, there wasn't a lot, but I took two or three out [raccoons out of the church steeple]," he said.

He has also pulled raccoons out of other buildings and homes in the area close to the hotel and the church. Sheldon said they will go anywhere they can find a place to build their nests and will even pull of siding off of a building to get to their young.

Messages left with church officials seeking comment were not returned by press time Wednesday afternoon.