10072021 66 Atkinson St.

The fate of the 186-year-old former church and YMCA building located at 66 Atkinson St. in Bellows Falls has seemingly been decided as officials voted to contract a company to demolish it. Officials are also reviewing a proposal from the Rockingham Historical Preservation Commission to save historical pieces from the structure.

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — The Rockingham Selectboard will consider a proposal from the Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission, a town agency, to salvage historical pieces from the town’s former YMCA prior to the building’s demolition, slated to occur around late November.

The Rockingham Selectboard voted unanimously last Wednesday to contract Hodgkins & Sons, a Bellows Falls, Vermont, company, at a bid of $58,683 to demolish the 186-year-old former church and YMCA building at 66 Atkinson St.

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.

Town Manager Scott Pickup said he hopes for contractors to bring down the majority of the structure by the end of November due to concerns about winter storms and the accumulation of ice or snowpack upon the building’s unstable roof.

However, the selectboard, amid some reservations, amended their motion to allow the Historical Preservation Commission to compile a cost estimate to salvage historical pieces from the building, which would be an additional cost of the project if authorized.

“The idea would be that the town staff would be working with the contractor to make sure that some of the elements are saved during the demolition process,” said Selectman Elijah Zimmer, who also serves on the commission.

This process will require members of the commission going inside the building to take measurements of elements and inventory items.

Pickup said he does not foresee the commission’s work posing an endangerment, given the timeline and nature of the activity.

The commission will have to sign a waiver releasing the town from additional liability should an injury occur, per an amendment to the original motion.

“If they want to go in and do their work, they should relieve the town of any responsibility if someone gets hurt,” said Chair Peter Golec in support of the amendment.

While the town will always bear a degree of liability for its buildings, a waiver could help relieve the town from responsibility for allowing people into a building that is known to be unsafe.

The Historic Preservation Commission was given until Tuesday, Oct. 19, to present the selectboard with an inventory of salvageable items and an estimate of those salvage costs.

Potential items of salvage could include “the magnificent stained glass windows” that adorn the building’s front facade or even the building steeple, depending on the feasibility, Zimmer said.

Zimmer said the commission is more interested to ensure items are being salvaged than who owns the salvage, whether that means the contractor retaining salvaged materials for retail.

“It’s more about trying to save the historic material and keep it from going to landfill,” Zimmer explained.

Several officials, including Bellows Falls Village Trustees, raised reservations about incurring additional costs to taxpayers to salvage items, particularly a costly process such as removing the steeple top, but were open to helping the commission to apply for historical grants that might defray cost.

“Unfortunately the ship [to save the building] has sailed,” said Trustee Jim McAulliffe. “The previous owners have done a terrible disservice to the building and to us, but that is beyond our control now to deal with.”

The Trustees did not participate in last week’s vote, saying that 66 Atkinson St. is now legally owned by the town. But McAuliffe, speaking as a village official, said he opposed putting additional costs onto the village taxpayers, who comprise about 70% of the town’s taxbase.

Town Development Director Gary Fox said that being able to get inside the building to collect photographs and measurements are common requirements in applications for historical grants.

Trustee Jeff Dunbar said he worries primarily about adding conditions or tasks that might further delay the construction.

“Trying to solve a problem at a table in the eleventh hour makes it really hard, in terms of safety and cost,” Dunbar said. “We risk pushing this project further than the timeframe that was intended.”

The town reclaimed ownership of the building this summer from the previous owner Chris Glennon, who had purchased the building for $1 with the intent of restoring the building. Glennon failed to deliver on his promises, as the costs to renovate 66 Atkinson St. vastly exceeded Glennon’s resources. Approximately $20,000 in legal fees and public safety measures was spend over roughly two years to protect and reclaim the property for demolition.

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