BELLOWS FALLS — The former Meeting Waters YMCA building at 66 Atkinson Street, one of the oldest church buildings in the area, will be coming down.
The Rockingham Select Board, meeting in joint session with the Bellows Falls Village Trustees, voted Wednesday night to end a three-year battle over the dilapidated building and voted to accept a bid of $58,693 to demolish the 1835 former Methodist church.
The vote by the Rockingham Select Board was unanimous, according to Municipal Manager Scott Pickup.
The Bellows Falls Village Trustees voted unanimously not to participate financially in the demolition, according to Village President Deborah Wright. She said the building is currently owned by the town, and is being demolished under the town’s nuisance ordinance. The village had originally been slated to contribute $25,000 toward the demolition.
The village spent about $17,000 on legal fees, engineering reports and fencing, trying to force owner Christopher Glennon to do something about the building, she said.
Pickup said the town received four bids, with the one from Hodgkins & Sons the lowest at $58,693. The highest bid was close to $100,000.
Pickup said demolition would begin Nov. 1, and he expects the building will come down quickly, in a matter of days.
The vote by the select board will allow the salvaging of some historic components of the old church, including the one remaining stained glass window.
Select Board member Elijah Zimmer, who is also a member of the town historic commission, is working to save the window, which features The Good Shepherd with some lambs.
Pickup said the town’s historic commission will document the building as well.
The old church most recently was owned by Christopher Glennon of Bellows Falls, who bought the dilapidated building for $1 in 2017 from Meeting Waters YMCA, which had moved out of the building a few years earlier. Meeting Waters owned the building for 44 years, but had allowed it to deteriorate. It moved out in 2014.
Glennon had plans to turn the building into a community arts center, but despite numerous promises to the Bellows Falls Village Trustees that he would fix various problems, there was never any substantial repair to the large structure, which sits at the corner of Atkinson and School Street Extension.
The trustees, anxious about falling slate shingles from the roof hitting nearby schoolchildren, or even collapsing into the street, erected barriers around the building two years ago.
Pickup said Thursday he and others, including Bellows Falls Police Chief David Bemis and Rockingham Zoning Administrator Chuck Wise, had been negotiating privately with Glennon to resolve the issue. Glennon hasn’t paid taxes on the building, and it was continuing to deteriorate.
Pickup said that Glennon finally agreed to transfer ownership of the old church to the town this summer, clearing the way for its demolition. Several historic preservation groups have expressed interest in the old church, but none have come forward with a plan.
Before Meeting Waters, the building was owned by Fall Mountain Grange.
Pickup said that the town’s Historic Preservation Commission would document the building and oversee the removal, if possible, of some of the historic aspects of the building that were salvageable. The commission had earlier passed a resolution urging the board to allow the building to be documented, and certain items, such as the one remaining stained glass window featuring Jesus, to be preserved.
Whether the window can be preserved is unknown, Pickup said, noting it wasn’t clear there was a solid framework around the window. Zimmer had said earlier the window could be repaired.
Old-growth timbers, and the church’s former bell tower or cupola, are also on the list of materials that they hope can be salvaged, he said.
Peter Golec, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, said the town would “find the money” to pay for the building’s demolition. There is about $40,000 in the town’s unsafe building fund. He said whether salvaging the items from the old YMCA would drive up the cost was unknown.
As for the future use of the lot, Pickup said that would have to be determined later. He said the lot, which he said is quite small, is immediately adjacent to the Central Elementary School playground, and the school has expressed interest in the land.
Because the lot is in such a prominent spot at the head of School Street, care needs to be taken for its future use, Pickup said. Other potential uses mentioned included affordable housing and a parking lot, he said.