CONCORD — An anonymous donor is giving $500,000 to help save from demolition a 133-year-old red-brick coal gasholder building in New Hampshire that is believed to be the last of its type in the country, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance said Friday.
The building, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, is the last of 14 known gasholders in the nation that still has its inner workings intact, according to the alliance and city officials.
Its owner, Liberty Utilities, says the dormant building is in poor condition and has become a safety hazard. The utility has been working with the city and alliance on options for preservation and development. It has said either a very expensive repair job needs to take place or the building needs to be demolished. It has not yet filed for a demolition permit.
“This tremendous news serves as an incredible momentum builder for a complicated and important project,” Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the alliance, said in a statement. She called it a “call to action” to Liberty, the city, and other stakeholders.
An analysis presented to the city this week estimates it would cost about $3 million to restore, preserve and redevelop it into a historic attraction over several stages. It details emergency stabilization work and prospects for its future. It referred to the structure as Concord’s version of Chicago’s Water Tower or Boston’s Citgo sign.
“Liberty has a strong preference for preservation for the gasholder,” Huck Montgomery, director of government affairs at Liberty Utilities, said at the meeting. He said “we’re very hopeful,” especially in light of the new information about the donation, and called the report a great starting point.
The alliance said the property is structurally compromised due to a tree falling on it several years ago and lack of stewardship; it was relisted on the group’s “Seven to Save” list last year because of its national significance, vulnerability and community development potential.
The consultants’ report prepared for the city recommends immediate stabilization, plus securing additional private investment as well as grants, incentives and other public funds.
The round building with a cupola atop its conical roof was built in Concord in 1888 when coal gas was a major source of light and heat. It was last used in 1953, but its original equipment remains. It holds a floating metal tank that contained up to 120,000 cubic feet (3,398 cubic meters) of coal gas. The tank’s weight provided constant pressure to force the gas out through pipes, where it was distributed to the public.