Joint Board discusses the demoliton of 66 Atkinson Street building

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

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Bellows Falls Trustees and Rockingham Selectboard in a Joint Board meeting discussed demolition of 66 Atkinson St.

Built in 1835 as the Methodist Church and locally known as the YMCA, the building was recently pursued by Northern Heritage Mills. At the end of September, Municipal Manager Scott Pickup was told they did not have the funds.

On June 29, the Joint Board had discussed demolition by the fall unless the building was sold. Pickup said they received four bids for demolition, and Hodgkins and Sons of Walpole, N.H., offered the lowest at $58,693. He said based on previous conversations with the board, the timing was good and encouraged demolition before snowfall.

Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission added a resolution to the meeting agenda to allow access inside the building for documentation purposes and to “save the stained glass windows, the tower, and century-old beams if practical.” The resolution requested deconstruction rather than demolition for salvageable elements of the building for historic preservation.

Selectboard Chair Peter Golec asked if the town was the owner and liable for the property. Pickup asserted that Chris Glennon had signed the deed over to the town of Rockingham.

Golec was concerned about allowing people inside, referring to the last engineer’s report.

Trustee James McAuliffe said if the RHPC signed personal releases, “I would be willing to let them [inside the building] for a limited time, as long as we were not potentially liable.”

Selectboard and RHPC member Elijah Zimmer said, “I think this is a significant loss to the community…[it’s] incredibly unfortunate.”

He suggested documentation and by saving “whatever elements are deemed practical.” The Preservation Commission was especially interested in the stained glass window on the front facade and the steeple, of which Zimmer said, “[It] has been an important landmark in town.”

He also explained the significance of preserving elements and that “the building is documented properly.”

Golec wondered about project delay and increased costs. Pickup said they would discuss with the contractor, and if the price changed, they would come back to the board.

McAuliffe said, “This proposal of salvaging beams is not conceivable,” and explained that the bid for demolition would be to crush the building.

Zimmer said it would be a matter of working with the contractor to save “what is practical” and encourage keeping the historic material out of the landfill.

Cowan asked if the RHPC had funding; Zimmer said that had not been discussed.

Selectboard Susan Hammond remarked that the bid only included crushing and disposal costs, but she suggested they add the resolution. “We need to make the best effort to salvage what can be salvaged as a condition of awarding the bid.” She said the manager could work with the contractor based upon recommendations.

Golec determined that two decisions needed to be made: the town accepting the bid and the Village Trustees voting to appropriate up to $40,000 from the unsafe building fund.

McAuliffe said, “As a Trustee, I am in favor of demolishing the building,” but he did not agree the village should share the costs with the town.

Golec said the action began with the Trustees voting it as an unsafe building and said, “I think it’s fair that the village should contribute.”

Trustee Stefan Golec said, “I see the historical value… I would think the village would like some say.” He asked if the RHPC would be prepared to act immediately.

Village President Deborah Wright said after two years, the village had spent $20,000 on court fees and fence rentals and now the building was town owned. She made a motion for the village to contribute zero dollars for demolition.

Jeff Dunbar said he wished the bid had included the resolution, noting this was a lesson for the town and village on waiting to act on decaying buildings.

The Trustees voted unanimously to appropriate zero funds.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to approve the bid of $58,693 for Hodgkins and Sons to demolish 66 Atkinson Street. The resolution was accepted.

The manager will work with the contractor and RHPC to identify significant historical elements, and RHPC would sign waivers of liability prior to entering the building. Decisions on salvage and any increased costs would be discussed at the next Selectboard meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 19.

The Joint Board generally meets on the fifth Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera. The Saxtons River Trustees expressed interest in joining their Nov. 30 meeting.

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