North Adams City Council Approves Funds Toward Church Repair
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to match a $50,000 state grant to begin emergency repairs to 140-year-old Notre Dame Church.
The emergency preservation grant was awarded by Secretary of State William Galvin, as part of his oversight of the Massachusetts Historic Commission, will be matched with $50,000 from the city's stabilization fund. The stabilization fund has about $970,000 in it.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said contractors will begin work as soon as possible to rebuilt the collapsed buttress (No. 11) in the rear of the church and the stabilize one on the other corner (No. 10.) at a cost of $100,000.
The city will not have to bid this emergency phase of work, instead going through an expedited process with the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
A second matching grant will be applied after the first of the year in the regular grant cycle. Barry Engineers and Constructors Inc. has estimated $212,000 total to repair the entire building. However, the full extent of repairs will not be known until the initial phase begins.
"The first phase ... is specifically to stabilize some of the buttresses that are in the worst conditions and the water issues that have caused, are causing that deterioration," the mayor said. "We really won't know until we get through this first phase of work what the rest will cost ... we really don't have any way of knowing plus we're pushing up against the weather.
Alcombright said the engineer has done a number of historic structures around the area. "I have a lot of faith in what he told us," he said, adding if there was extensive extra work needed he would be having further conversations with the council.
While the church is not in imminent danger of collapse, engineers are concerned that service loads such as "gravity, wind, snow and seismic" will put undue pressure on the weakened buttresses.
The damage was discovered early this spring and was caused by the theft of the church's copper gutters that allowed water to get into the masonry. It is unknown when the theft occurred but is believed to have been some time ago.
Building Inspector William Meranti said the building is in otherwise good shape, with no signs of water in the interior or cracks in the foundation. The steeple and roof had painting and repairs done in 2008.
"If we can get past this and get it back together, there's no reason to think that it won't retain that kind of shape for quite a long time," he said, although the freeze/thaw cycle in the unheated building is taking its toll on the paint and plaster which is showing "severe signs of decay."
The Notre Dame property, including the adjacent school and rectory, was purchased by the city in 2007 in an attempt to safe the steeple. The rectory was later sold to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Foundation but the school and church been left vacant and unused.
Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. asked if would be more worthwhile to offer the building as is, since the administration had been discussing a request for proposals, even for $1.
Alcombright said he'd consider a $1 if the proposal was good and the council agreed. However, it was unlikely the building would be sold before winter and there is serious concern that the current damage could become catastrophic. The city is also under an agreement to maintain it because of the preservation grant awarded for the 2008 repairs.
"In 2008, the former administation had taken a similar preservation fund match that basically puts something on our deed saying we can't walk away from that ... we have to maintain it. Even if it was so bad we want to tear it down, we can't do that right now because of the deed restriction," he said. "This $50,000 kind of further entrenches that but we're already into that mode."
Plus, the $200,000 or so would fix buttresses, repoint all the masonry, and install a gutter system to prevent the problem reoccurring. That, the mayor said, could "help entice any buyers."
"My fear is it's only going to get worse and I don't want to see a result like we saw a few months ago — and we're still seeing today," Alcombright said, referring to the months-long demolition of nearby St. Francis' Church.
Councilors also expressed concern that replacing the gutters would again make them a target and asked how the city would ensure they weren't touched. Meranti said the replacements for winter would be PVC or galvanized, and of no worth to thieves.
But, those gutters may not pass muster for the local and state Historic Commissions in the second phase of work. If they had to be more historically accurate, they would be kept under better surveillance or possibly replaced with a copper lookalike material.
"Today, it's getting this thing stabilized. If this was somebody else we'd be citing them to do the work," said Alcombright. "The city can't be held to a lesser standard."
In other business:
• The council set a joint public hearing with the Planning Board on Oct. 26 on a solar energy systems ordinance.
• Council President Benjamin Lamb read a letter from Councilor Kate Merrigan explaining her recent absences from the council because of "family issues that required a considerable amount of time."
• Residents Robert Cardimino and Merle Knight and her elderly mother said the city was not appropriately dealing with numerous break-ins. Cardimino referred to car break-ins and said the city should be notifying residents; Knight said her house has been frequently entered and personal items stolen.
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