Joint Board discuss demolition of historic church at 66 Atkinson Street

66 Atkinson Street in Bellows Falls. Photo by Betsy Thurston
66 Atkinson Street in Bellows Falls. Photo by Betsy Thurston

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, June 29, the Joint Board of the Rockingham Selectboard and Bellows Falls Trustees discussed updates on 66 Atkinson Street.

Built in 1835 as the first Methodist church in Bellows Falls, the building has commanded attention at the intersections of School and Atkinson streets ever since. It was owned by the YMCA for 50 years and in 2015 was exchanged for one dollar.

Current owner Christopher Glennon hoped to save and preserve the historic structure, but the location, across the street from the historic district, made it ineligible for federal funding and the cost of rehabilitation is significant. Glennon is currently working on a Quit Claim Deed with the town claiming ownership by September.

Municipal Manager Scott Pickup told the Joint Board that Northern Heritage Mills President Gerald DeMuro had expressed interest in the building. Northern Heritage Mills of Claremont, N.H., is a nonprofit educational organization. Founded in 2001, NHM promotes the preservation of historical technologies through STEM education.

Pickup explained that correspondence so far was only by email. He had shared the 2018 engineering report with DeMuro who responded with maintained interest. Among other concerns, the report highlighted structural instability, collapse of ceiling materials, and fallen slate roof shingles. The engineer had recommended demolition at that time.

Two years ago, the Joint Board had met with Glennon to request that he stabilize and secure the roof and address other concerns from the engineer’s report by the fall.

Glennon had removed debris and ceiling materials to lessen the load, but Trustees observed the roof still remained insecure. They proposed jersey barriers and fencing to surround the building in the fall of 2019.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Pickup said, “Ideally, we would do it over the summer, but the demolition rates are much higher in the summer.” He said they could save substantial costs if the building was taken down before the winter. It would cost between $75,000 to $100,000 to take the building down. Pickup explained that the village has invested $20,000 in fencing, barriers, asbestos removal, and legal fees.

Trustee James McAuliffe commented that if NHM was still interested “More power to him, but I certainly agree with [Pickup] that we need to move forward before the winter.”

Pickup added, “We’d be hard pressed to get through another winter season without some sort of catastrophic failure.”

He had told DeMuro that “there was a hard deadline,” so if he was serious he needed to send a proposal as soon as possible. Pickup had received nothing formal as of June 29.

Board member Rick Cowan asked about funding. Pickup said federal funding was requested, and Community Development Block Grant funds might help with the demolition expenses.

Discussion ensued with what could be done with the lot after demoliton. Ideas included a dog park, a green space, a community center, a garden, or parking lot. Pickup hoped they could improve the intersection at School and Atkinson streets and make it safer.

Pickup concluded that the goal was for a decision to be made by Sept. 30 at the next scheduled Joint Board meeting.

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