Notre Dame Church in North Adams in need of repair before winter


NORTH ADAMS — The building's not going to collapse anytime soon, but a preliminary structural review of the exterior of the city-owned Notre Dame du Sacre Coeur Church has shown that repairs must be made before winter, or risk falling into more dire disrepair.

Parts of the exterior, including its buttresses and brick masonry bearing wall are deemed in "dangerous condition" under building code, a structural engineer told city officials in a letter dated June 28.

"It is our professional opinion that the church building structure must be repaired immediately to avoid partial or a major building collapse under building service loads which include gravity, wind, snow and seismic," wrote Bernard Hunt in a letter to city Building Inspector William Meranti. Hunt works for Pittsfield-based Barry Engineers and Constructors Inc., which conducted the review by performing a visual walk-through around the church, located at 228 East Main St.

"Repairs must be completed prior to the winter season to avoid snow loads and continued water entry and freeze and thaw conditions," Hunt reported.

In response, the city now hopes to secure $50,000 in state funding, matched with $50,000 of its own money, to chip away at the more than $200,000 in estimated repairs.

Some of the building's structural buttresses have already "collapsed or are near collapse," the assessment states.

The building's gutter system was vandalized, according to the report, allowing water to run down and wash away some of the building's brick exterior which now requires repointing.

"The first thing obviously is the water remediation," Mayor Richard Alcombright told The Eagle on Thursday.

Built in 1875, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features a vaulted ceiling 57 feet high. It closed more than a decade ago.

The cost of repairing the brick exterior is projected to cost $197,500, while replacing the gutters is expected to reach $14,270, according to Hunt's estimates.

Despite the significant damage to the exterior of the building, the assessment notes that the interior of the building appears dry, "with no major visible structural cracking."

Alcombright said the city knew that the problem was something "we needed to look at very, very quickly," and ordered the engineers inspect the building.

The survey comes about a month and a half after the Diocese of Springfield ordered the demolition of the historic St. Francis of Assisi Church after its steeple partially collapsed onto a sidewalk in early May.

In response to the details of the Notre Dame survey, Alcombright said, "I don't see it as grave, actually I was somewhat relieved [by the results]." He noted that the report says the interior of the building does not show signs of structural stress.

In a July 7 letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who oversees the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Alcombright requested $50,000 in emergency state funding to be matched with $50,000 from the city's coffers to address the issues.

"The city recently lost its oldest Catholic church to the wrecking ball ... Notre Dame has been vacant now for well over 15 years and is beginning to show its age." the mayor wrote.

The combined $100,000 would not completely cover the cost of repairs, but would allow the city to keep the building "in play for future development," Alcombright said in the letter.

The mayor said the $50,000 would come from the city's stabilization fund and require city council approval. Alcombright said he has not yet received word of the state's decision on emergency funding.

The mayor noted that the city would work with engineers and the contractor assigned to the project to at least stabilize the building before winter.

The city still plans to issue a request for proposals to privately develop the building, the roof and steeple of which were repaired within the last decade. The assessment did not include an inspection of Notre Dame's attic or the church's steeple.

"We'll come to council and request anything we need," Alcombright said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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