Notre Dame Church likely to be put on market in months


NORTH ADAMS — Whatever becomes of the Notre Dame Church, it should avoid the same fate as St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Historical preservation restrictions placed on the deed nearly a decade ago may hinder some forms of potential development at the Notre Dame Church du Sacre Coeur Church site, but should ensure the building remains standing.

The city plans to sell the church, which is in need of structural and other repairs exceeding $200,000 according to an engineer's estimates made public last week. The news of issues at Notre Dame came just weeks after it was announced St. Francis of Assisi Church on Eagle Street required a complete demolition.

The plan is to list the school and church buildings for sale "within the next three months," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. Because of the nature of the property and the preservation restrictions, Alcombright expects "what you're probably going to see is some sort of artistic or museum or some use of that sort."

Alcombright has requested $50,000 in emergency funding from the Massachusetts Historical Commission that would be matched with $50,000 from the city's own reserves to make the repairs to the church's gutters and crumbling brick buttresses before the winter. Alcombright added that the planned repairs "can only help with the process of selling the property."

The state has yet to respond to the request.

The issues are believed to have begun this winter after the building's gutters were vandalized, allowing water to trickle directly onto exterior brick. The engineer's report did note that the interior of the building appeared sound.

Alcombright does not expect the church's infrastructure to have a significant impact on the city's ability to sell it, but does acknowledge the limitations brought on by historical preservation restrictions.

"We would want to see anything that would provide the capital to do a worthwhile project in there that would provide a benefit to the community and the neighborhood," Alcombright said of potential investors.

Because of the nature of the property and the preservation restrictions, Alcombright expects "what you're probably going to see is some sort of artistic or museum or some use of that sort."

The city purchased the church, rectory, and school buildings in 2008 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield for $500,000. The city would in turn to sell the church and former school to developer Arch Street Development, which had also redeveloped the Clark Biscuit building on Ashland Street, for $255,000. The developer would then give the church back to the city while selling off the school as a condominium building.

But that deal fell through and the city moved forward without the developer, selling the rectory building as planned to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Foundation for $220,000 later in 2008. The Notre Dame School building and the church itself remain under city ownership.

With help from a matching grant awarded in 2008 by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the city completed nearly $100,000 of repairs to the church's roof in the summer of 2009.

As a condition of the state grant, a preservation restriction was placed on the deed, according to Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

"That preservation restriction is on the deed, and so it goes to whoever buys the property," said McNiff, who added such restrictions are "routine" conditions of Massachusetts Historical Commission grants.

The church was built in the late 19th century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and closed for good in 2005. It has remained vacant ever since.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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