BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — The Rockingham Selectboard gave the green light this week to local historic preservationists to save key pieces of the town’s former methodist church prior to the building’s upcoming demolition.
Rockingham officials voted unanimously on Tuesday through two separate motions to appropriate up to $21,000 total for the removal of the church steeple and the building’s signature stained glass windows from the former church and YMCA building located at 66 Atkinson St. before the building’s demolition, now slated to occur in December.
One motion appropriated up to $6,000 to cover the costs to remove the stained glass windows, which Walter Wallace, a manager for the preservation project, said could be resold for a considerable profit.
A second motion appropriated up to $15,000 for costs to remove the steeple and relocate it to another site in town, where the steeple can be restored and converted into a storage shed for the town’s holiday displays and seasonal items.
Built in 1837, the condemned Atkinson Street building is considered “structurally unsafe,” with reports from town officials of failing interior trusses and heavy slate roof shingles coming loose and falling to the ground. The town of Rockingham has contracted Hodgkins & Sons, a Bellows Falls company, at a bid of $58,683 to demolish the 186-year-old building.
The town seeks to have the building torn down before the start of winter precipitation, which could cause a roof collapse should heavy snow and ice accumulate on it.
Selectman Elijah Zimmer, who is also a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, expressed interest last month to attempt to reclaim the church steeple as a historical keepsake and salvage the building’s stained glass and resusabe timber.
“[The steeple] is in perfectly good condition,” Zimmer said on Wednesday. “The slate roof is completely flawless and it wouldn’t cost any money to restore it, so it could be a very nice storage facility.
The steeple has a square footage of 144 feet and would suit the town’s storage needs, according to Zimmer, who noted the town has been without a convenient place to contain its seasonal items for several years.
Zimmer said he spoke to a restoration company that specializes in steeples who estimated the steeple’s removal and relocation to cost approximately $12,000. Town Manager Scott Pickup estimated an additional $2,000 to $3,000 in cost to lay a foundation beneath the piece.
The steeple would also need to be first removed for the local preservationists to access and remove the wooden beams in the ceiling, which Wallace would like to salvage for future use, such as potential renovations to the Rockingham Meeting House.
The biggest remaining question regarding the steeple is where to relocate it. Zimmer initially proposed the Waypoint Visitor Center at 17 Depot St., which Zimmer said offered a convenient location for the removal and storage of seasonal items. But Selectboard Chair Peter Golec dismissed that location, saying the piece would not fit aesthetically with the area.
Other board members suggested placement in Riverfront Park along the historical trail, which is maintained by the Rockingham Historical Society. Town Director of Development Gary Fox said that particular area’s focus is on the town’s industrial history as opposed to general historical objects.
“The Connecticut River Heritage Plan, that is in place for the destination tourism of that area, is all based on the paper industry, the rail industry, the canals and the hydro power,” Fox said. “I think that churches and the residential piece would be out of place there.”
The Selectboard said it will consider input and suggestions for an ideal location. The board will need to determine a site by late November, prior to work by a contracted specialist. Pickup said that Hodgkins & Sons could delay its demolition until December, but Pickup recommended a deadline of Dec. 1 to complete any contracted preservation work due to the approaching winter.
Speaking about the windows removal, Wallace said he is still researching the manufacturing source but estimates the market value of the stained glass windows to be between $10,000 and $50,000. The pieces would be packaged for later consignment, which would guarantee a net profit to the town.
Selectman Bonnie North suggested that many residents might have been hoping the windows would be saved as town artifacts rather than go to salvage. The Selectboard noted that the appropriation vote does not prevent a potential fundraising effort to restore and retain the windows, as the motion only concerned the removal of the windows.
The Historic Preservation Commission also seeks to salvage additional reusable lumber, such as 2-by-4-foot pieces, from the site. These, however, could be salvaged during the demolition and cleanup process. Wallace did not have an estimated cost to salvage and relocate this lumber but indicated this work could be carried out by town employees or volunteers rather than contracted out.