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The steeple on St. Francis has a commanding view of the entrance of the city.
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Siding is missing in this photo taken in 2013.
Updated May 15, 2016 11:26AM

Decaying Steeple on St. Francis Headed for Demolition

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Eagle and North Church streets are closed until further notice.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Eagle and North Church streets are closed until further notice because of concerns over the structural integrity of the 150-year-old steeple on St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the decision was made to close down traffic around the area and evacuate two nearby buildings on Eagle after meeting with engineers sent by the Diocese of Springfield.

The steeple is expected to be demolished next week. Alcombright said he would have more information on Sunday.

Several "pieces" of the steeple fell Thursday on the south side of the church, hitting the lower roof on that side and falling onto the lawn and onto North Church Street.

The diocese quickly sent an engineering team to look at the structure after being contacted through the local parish. The structure was assessed over the last two days.

Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont said in a statement Sunday morning that "large pieces" of building material were found on the sidewalk and walkways on Thursday.

An emergency inspection by structural engineer Bernie Hunt of Barry Engineers in Pittsfield "found serious structural issues with the steeple."

"Additionally, the buttresses show signs of failing which would compromise the lateral support for the walls of the church," wrote Dupont. "He immediately notified the Diocese of Springfield and the city building inspector of his findings."

The church building was declared unsafe on Friday and the diocese installed safety fencing around the perimeter.

"The diocesan structural engineer has determined given the scope of the serious conditions identified, the only recourse is demolition," he wrote, adding the diocese was planning "the immediate demolition of the steeple followed soon after by the remainder of the church."

The roads were closed at about 9:30 on Saturday night immediately after city officials met with the engineers and the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee.

"They were looking at the structural adequacy," said the mayor. "[Fire Director] Steven Meranti and [Building Inspector] Bill Meranti said this thing is just structurally not sound, we're concerned."

The church has been shuttered since 2008 when the diocese consolidated parishes in the light of declining communicants and rising costs. There was brief talk about a vigil (a la St. Stanislaus) to save the 1863 church, the first Catholic church in the city, but the estimated $1 million price tag to repair the structure scotched that.

Since then, the building has sat vacant and the steeple has been visibly deteriorating, mostly from the loss of shingles from the soaring structure. An attempt by CVS to purchase the property and demolish the landmark church ran into fierce opposition and was abandoned.

The property has been listed with Colebrook Realty; the church is 14,838 square feet and the connected rectory, 12,823 square feet.

Alcombright had hoped the building could be salvaged for some use.

"This is a public safety matter now," he said. "Our concern first and foremost is if it fell, what would it hit?"

It was determined that the street and Flatiron Building and possibly the Village Pizza building could be damaged, and both buildings were closed. The former rectory attached to the church is vacant.

Large signs and jersey barriers are set up on Eagle and North Church to close them off from traffic.

The mayor on Saturday did not know how extensive the demolition would be, if would be just the steeple or also the church.

"We'll be assessing the next steps," he said.

Updated Sunday morning with comments from the diocese.

Tags: church,   demolition,   road closure,   

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