North Adams OKs $50,000 toward Notre Dame Church repairs

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NORTH ADAMS — The City Council has unanimously approved a $50,000 appropriation to potentially prevent the former Notre Dame Church from meeting the same fate as Saint Francis of Assisi.

Backed by $50,000 in state funding, the expenditure is intended to stabilize the worst parts of the at-risk historic building before winter weather sets in.

The condition of Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur Church, which closed in 2005, was called into question earlier this year when parts of its brick exterior collapsed into the parking lot below. It was determined through an engineer's assessment that vandalism of the building's copper gutters had apparently allowed water to deteriorate the building, resulting in the failure or near failure of multiple buttresses.

In response to the engineer's report, Mayor Richard Alcombright wrote the Massachusetts Historical Commission — which funded repairs to the building's roof in 2009 — for $50,000 in emergency funding. The state money, which Alcombright proposed would be matched by $50,000 from the city's coffers, would help stabilize the building before the winter. The city's reserve fund's current balance is $929,600.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who serves as the chairman of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, accepted Alcombright's request for funding through the commission's Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund.

The church was constructed in 1875 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the state-funded work on the roof, the deed includes preservation restrictions that obligate the city — or any future owner — to keep the building standing.

Councilors asked questions about the long-term health and maintenance of the building and how the city could prevent similar issues in its buildings in the future. Building Inspector William Meranti said the structural issues were due to theft of the building's copper gutters, which would be replaced with something less valuable.

"The building itself, in my opinion, is in very good shape for its age, barring these issues," Meranti said.

Alcombright has said he expects to request another $50,000 in funding — again matched by the city — from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to be used early next year to completely finish the repairs, which were estimated by an engineer at just more than $200,000.

"I will know more as to exact figures as the engineer further develops the scope of the work. In any event, we need to get the building stabilized before the onset of the bad weather," Alcombright wrote in a letter to the council accompanying his request for funding.

Alcombright has maintained that the city will list the building for sale in the coming months.

Councilor Robert Moulton, Jr., asked if the city would consider trying to get rid of the building before doing any repair work. Alcombright responded that he would personally consider selling the church to the right developer with a proposal beneficial to the city.

"I think we're looking at those types of those options but right now our quest is really to stabilize it," Alcombright said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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