After delay, St. Francis of Assisi is coming down


NORTH ADAMS >> The demolition of St. Francis of Assisi Church has resumed.

Though the building has remained standing, its former steeple has been sitting in a pile next to the church since it was removed in an emergency demolition more than three months ago.

"Unfortunately we ran into some unexpected delays in getting National Grid to facilitate and verify utility shut-offs. The city requires this as part of the normal permitting process so was unable to issue us the demolition permit," said Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Asbestos was also found in parts of the building.

"This resulted in an thorough analysis following [Environmental Protection Agency] guidelines," Dupont said.

The demolition, which does not include its rectory building on Union Street, is expected to last several weeks. The connector between the rectory and church building was brought down on Tuesday.

"I was not pleased that it took so long, but that being said, we're past that point. They're there now," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "My only hope now is if they see a stoppage in work, I want to know right away."

Alcombright, who hopes to preserve the church's footprint as a park, said he asked the Diocese to preserve any cornerstones or other historically significant items that can be salvaged.

Built in 1865, St. Francis was ordered razed by the Diocese shortly after its steeple partially collapsed in May, leaving debris scattered on the North Church Street sidewalk and roadway. Though it closed in 2008, St. Francis was the city's oldest Catholic church and it's 168-foot spire was among the most prominent in the "Steeple City" skyline.

Following the demolition, the site will be reevaluated and relisted for sale by the Diocese' broker, according to Dupont. The value of the parcel is expected to increase without the church, because any purchaser would have either had to pay for demolition or invest substantially in repairs.

At that point, Alcombright hopes to continue a dialogue with the diocese about preserving the church building's footprint for potential reuse as a memorial park, he said, leaving the rest of the property to any developer.

"Once it's leveled and cleaned up ... I think you'll see some fairly significant interest in the property," Alcombright said.

The three-day emergency demolition of the steeple in May prompted the closure of North Church Street and the downtown section of Eagle Street to all vehicular traffic and resulted in the temporary closure of several businesses.

Alcombright said he does not expected any city streets to be closed during this phase of demolition, but does not anticipate the stretch of Eagle Street sidewalk closed since May to reopen until after the work is complete.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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