Photo Gallery | Steeple of former St. Francis Church taken off
NORTH ADAMS — On Friday, the Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, will visit the site of the St. Francis of Assisi Church demolition, which progressed enough on Thursday to allow nearby residents back into their homes and businesses to reopen.
Rozanski is expected to inspect the progress of the historic church's demolition and thank the city and diocesan teams that have overseen it, according to a statement released Thursday by the diocese.
"The diocese is working closely with Mayor Richard Alcombright, along with other North Adams city officials and emergency responders, whose cooperation and assistance have been greatly instrumental in ensuring the safety of the public during this project," said Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese. "Bishop thought it important that he go to personally express his gratitude."
Five days after they were abruptly evacuated by public safety officials, residents of the "flatiron" building at the corner of North Church and Eagle Street were to return home.
The decision, which also impacts businesses on Eagle Street, was announced by city officials late Thursday afternoon.
The church was condemned by city inspectors late Saturday evening, and the diocese announced Sunday that the historic church, the oldest of its kind in the city, would be demolished in the wake of a partial collapse of its steeple last week.
Crews have methodically and carefully worked to dismantle the steeple from the church while hoisted from a crane this week. On Wednesday the very highest portion of the 168-foot tall structure was removed, and on Thursday crews removed a second section.
Following the complete demolition of the steeple, crews will raze the entire church, leaving only its rectory standing.
The progress made in the demolition, which began in full on Monday, provided some relief to Eagle Street businesses and residents. After the steeple was removed on Thursday and engineers examined the integrity of what remained, the demolition zone shrank.
As of 3 p.m. on Thursday, pedestrians are now allowed full access to the entirety of Eagle Street, though it and North Church Street are expected to remain closed to vehicular traffic through the weekend.
Residents of the flatiron building will be allowed back in their homes, and the businesses shut out by fencing — Martha Flood Design, Tic Tocks and More, Berkshires Finest Gear, and the Friendship Center food pantry — will also be allowed to reopen for the first time since they were shuttered late Saturday night.
Village Pizza had also been forced to close its storefront but could use its back door on Center Street for deliveries prior to the demolition zone's reduction in size.
"Hopefully, this will help out," said Fire Director Stephen Meranti, who has overseen the city's response to the demolition.
Meranti acknowledged the inconvenience the road blockage causes to businesses. He advised residents make use of the nearby Center Street parking lot and walk to Eagle Street businesses.
It remains unclear how long the demolition process will last or when the roads will be allowed to reopen.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376