Trustees eye structural inspection of old YMCA

The former Methodist Church in Bellows Falls was built in 1835 and served as the home of Meeting Waters YMCA for 44 years.

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BELLOWS FALLS — It’s looking more and more likely that the former Meeting Waters YMCA building on Atkinson Street will be demolished.

That was the word from Town Manager Scott Pickup, who briefed the Rockingham Select Board last week about the town and the village’s ongoing battle with the dilapidated building.

The town and village have spent thousands of dollars on barriers to keep the public away from the building, which is located across the street from Central Elementary School.

The former Methodist church, located at 66 Atkinson Street, at one time was the second oldest church in the village, dating back to 1835. The current owner, Christopher Glennon of Bellows Falls, doesn’t have the financial resources to do anything with the building, Pickup said.

Glennon bought the run-down building in 2017 for $1 from Meeting Waters YMCA, which had vacated the building back in 2014 and let it deteriorate. In 2018, Glennon said he wanted to turn the old church into a community arts center.

The building’s bell tower is of particular worry for town officials, as it might collapse into surrounding streets, either Atkinson or School streets.

Pickup said he was surprised the structure made it through last winter. “It’s amazing to me that we haven’t had a structural collapse,” he said.

Select Board member Elijah Zimmer made a pitch for the town to put the money it was going to spend demolishing it — upwards of $100,000 — into repairing it so a developer could be brought in to save the building.

But the board’s appetite for that strategy appeared non-existent.

Pickup said the town and village are working cooperatively, given the various ordinances, to get action on the building. So far, between fencing, engineering reports and legal fees, the town has spent $17,000 trying to get Glennon to do something to improve the building’s condition.

In anticipation of demolition, Pickup said the asbestos in the building was being addressed.

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He said the town and village would have a “host of options” on what to do with the property, once the building is removed. The lot is actually relatively small, he said.

The town has set aside $40,000 in a special hazardous building fund, Select Board member Rick Cowan pointed out.

And Select Board members asked whether there was any salvage value to the structure, whether it was beams or slate roofing.

Zimmer said there was a lot of material of value in the building, even if the historic stained glass windows — with the exception of one — had already been removed and sold.

“Is there an alternative to demolition?” Zimmer said. An engineer report from 2020 said it would cost between $200,000 to $250,000 to stabilize the building, Zimmer said.

“The only viable option is demolition and rebuild,” said Pickup. “It was not going to be salvageable,” he said.

“There’s no hope for it,” said Select Board member Bonnie North, who said she spent an afternoon in the building with an engineer a couple of years ago. “And it’s a lot worse now,” she said.

North and others asked if there were “bit and pieces” that could be saved, particularly the one remaining stained glass window at the front of the building.

The window, which features Jesus, can be repaired, said Zimmer.

The fate of the building is expected to be discussed at the next joint meeting later this month between the Rockingham Select Board and the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.