Our Opinion: Independent assessment of St. Francis
The Steeple City of North Adams has already sustained a blow with the loss of the steeple on the former St. Francis of Assisi Church. It should act cautiously before losing the building itself.
The building has been vacant since 2008 and essentially left at the mercy of time and the elements. The result was the deterioration of the defining steeple, which was quickly taken down because it posed a safety hazard. This should not have been allowed to happen, as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield owed it to former parishioners, given the church's proud, nearly 150-year history, and to the city to see that it was maintained properly even after it went out of use.
The diocese may now be more interested in the property than the abandoned building that sits on it, and for this reason North Adams should not act in haste if and when the diocese applies for demolition permits. As part of the Historical Commission review, an engineer not associated with the diocese should conduct a thorough structural assessment.
Should an expert analyst independent from the diocese, and the city as well, conclude that the building cannot be saved, former parishioners and current residents could more easily live with that reality. But it is possible that the building has a useful future ahead of it in some form.
As North Adams continues to try to attract new businesses and residents and hang on to the ones it has it must preserve the buildings that have long defined it. If this does not concern the diocese it does concern North Adams. The St. Francis steeple cannot be reclaimed but the church building may be able to avoid a similar fate. The best way to determine that is with a structural review by someone who is not beholden to any body or bodies that may have a vested interested in seeing the building come down.