, Newburyport, MA

July 1, 2013

City to demolish 2 downtown buildings

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Two old buildings on School Street used to house several government offices have been vacated and will soon be shut down in anticipation of their impending demolition.

At the end of the month, both the Town Hall Annex building at 11 School St. and the building at 5 School St. will have their utilities cut off, saving the city money until the two buildings can be torn down.

Mayor Thatcher Kezer said the city has already obtained permission to demolish the Annex building, and it will try to sell 5 School St. to an interested buyer while it seeks a demolition permit.

Previously, the 176-year-old Town Hall Annex building housed the building inspector’s and the regional health director’s offices, while 5 School St. was home to the conservation agent and the housing rehabilitation director.

All four of those offices have been moved to the Ordway Building at 9 School St., which previously housed the Senior Center, the veterans agent and the DPW offices before those services were all moved to the Costello Transportation Center and the new DPW building at 39 South Hunt Road.

Kezer said both buildings are in bad shape, and the Annex building could come down within a couple of months. The Annex’s demolition will be done as part of the $2.4 million fire station renovation project, which will begin later this summer.

“We’re bidding it out very soon,” he said. “And as part of that bid package, whoever gets the contract will be required to demolish the Annex.”

The fate of the Annex building was first brought into question a couple years ago when the proposed expansion to the fire station would have come within three feet of the building, requiring $100,000 to be spent shoring up the Annex to keep it safe during the construction process.

Construction project managers for the fire station expansion wanted to demolish the building to avoid the added construction costs of having the addition come in close proximity to the building, but the city’s Historical Commission voted in March of 2011 to put a hold on demolishing the annex after deeming it “preferably preserved.”

By issuing the preferably preserved status, the Historical Commission put an 18-month hold on the demolition to give the city a chance to sell the building to another party so it could be moved to another location and preserved. Kezer said the city tried on several occasions, but nobody was interested.

“We made two attempts to sell off or give away the building, and we had no takers,” Kezer said. “And it’s not a building that can move, it’s made of brick and mortar and it’s a separate construction thrown together, so there’s no basement or foundation, it’s just kind of sitting there.”

After the city failed to sell off the Annex, some delays came up with the fire station project itself, and the 18-month demolition delay ultimately wound up expiring. With the delay order lifted, the city is now free and clear to proceed as planned.

As for the 5 School St. building, Kezer said the city will seek a buyer to move the building in a similar fashion when it submits its demolition permit application.

“We will look to do the same thing we did with the Annex, which is advertise to see if anybody wants to take the building and haul it away in order to save it,” Kezer said.

Besides clearing the way for the fire station project, tearing down the Annex building and 5 School St. will also create room for additional parking spaces. More parking would pay extra dividends for the library, which could become eligible for new grant funds if more parking becomes available.

“By removing that and by removing 5 School St., it also meets my objective to create as much parking around the library as possible,” he said.

Kezer said he wasn’t sure if the extra parking made available by removing the Annex and 5 School St. buildings would be enough to make the library eligible for such grants, but it would be a big step in the right direction, he said.