BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — The Bellows Falls Village Trustees have given Chris Glennon, owner of 66 Atkinson St., 30 days to provide a sufficient plan to rehabilitate the historic building and finance the project, or the trustees will discuss an order to demolish it.
The trustees have been trying to work with Glennon for a year to address structural repairs at 66 Atkinson St., formerly the Fall Mountain Grange hall building, which Glennon purchased in September 2017, intending to restore it.
In October 2018 a village inspection committee comprised of Engineer David Hinginger, Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis and Health Officer Charles Wise found the building to be “structurally unsafe.” Among the chief concerns, the interior roof trusses were failing and unable to support the roof or second floor ceiling; heavy slate roof shingles were coming and loose and falling to the ground.
The 2018 report ordered Glennon to temporarily shore up the roof system; either shore up the second floor ceiling or remove it completely; and permanently repair the roof frame and covering.
On September 27, Hinginger and Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison visited the building for a follow-up inspection. Harrison told the trustees on Tuesday that none of the ordered improvements have been addressed.
“To me it was very discouraging to see the condition of the building,” Harrison said.
In a written report to the trustees, Hinginger said, “The condition of the structure is much worse than it was last fall,” and “it may no longer be possible to consider that the building can reasonably be repaired.”
Hinginger also said that Glennon’s submitted project plan “is missing a substantial scope” of work, and lacks important details about the project’s complexity and financial cost.
Glennon told the board that he is currently clearing debris from the second floor and has an “idea in his head” for an interior frame that would support the roof and to lighten the roof weight by replacing the slate shingles with a more lightweight material like tin or cedar shingles. Glennon also said that he scheduled a historic preservationist to visit this week and help with Glennon’s plan.
But the trustees said that they cannot keep giving Glennon extensions without action or documented evidence.
“Winter is coming,” Village President Deborah Wright told Glennon. “That building is not going to be able to take another snow load. The reality is that we haven’t seen action that we’ve been asking for since October of last year.”
By order of the village, a protective barrier has blocked off the sidewalk around the property to prevent falling shingles possibly injuring someone. Municipal officials now worry about the upper level of the structure, particularly the building’s bell tower, collapsing.
“I’d love to see this fixed, but I’m worried that, in a couple of years, we’re going to be looking at a significant portion of the building either inside itself or on the ground,” said Trustee Jonathan Wright.
At present the trustees say they have limited options. Hinginger recommended the building be demolished, but the estimated cost to demolish is $75,000. Even if the village took control of the building, the village does not have available funds to afford the demolition. Harrison said that she has been unable to find public financing opportunities through other programs.
Harrison said that the best available option is for the trustees to enforce the unsafe building code to order Glennon to demolish the building at his own expense.
Jonathan Wright said he was unwilling to take that action, asserting that if Glennon didn’t have the funds to restore the building, he did not have funds to cover the demolition either.
Harrison told the trustees that the process to order demolition takes time, so the trustees could order village officials to begin the paperwork, which would allow Glennon time to work with his historic property consultant to find a solution.
The trustees decided to allow Glennon 30 days, approximately the period until the trustees’ next meeting on Tuesday, November 12, to provide documents to demonstrate that Glennon’s plan to rehabilitate the building is feasible. The documentation must include a concise plan to complete the scope of work outlined by the village report and how Glennon will finance it.
Deborah Wright said that without convincing documentation, the trustees must consider ordering the demolition at the next meeting.
“We have to be concerned about our entire community,” Wright said. “[That includes] the historic preservations of all the buildings we can. But we have to balance those out with the safety of the public.”
Glennon said that he already submitted a project plan to the village. The original submission was handwritten, which the trustees said they did not read. Harrison said that more recently Glennon’s plan was typed to print, though Hinginer found that plan to be insufficient.