Roads around St. Francis expected to reopen today; bells removed from church

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NORTH ADAMS — Public safety officials announced Tuesday that the streets around St. Francis of Assisi Church will reopen on Wednesday for the first time in more than a week.

North Church Street and the downtown portion of Eagle Street have been closed to vehicular traffic since late in the evening of May 14, when diocesan and city officials determined the entire church was unsafe and must come down.

With its steeple, which once stood at more than 160 feet tall, now completely deconstructed, the demolition crews could further tighten their safety perimeter and allow vehicle access to the adjacent roadways.

"The emergency deconstruction work has been completed, and now they have to go through the rest of the permitting process," said Fire Director Stephen Meranti, who has overseen the city's response to the crisis.

The whirlwind demolition of the historic church began on May 12 when a portion of the steeple collapsed, leaving debris on nearby sidewalks that spilled into North Church Street.

The Diocese of Springfield quickly sent in engineers to assess the situation and discovered that, in addition to a failing steeple, the building's buttresses were compromised and structurally unsound.

Meranti said he expects the roads to reopen by the end of business hours on Wednesday. Though the emergency demolition of the steeple is complete, the site must be cleared before roads can reopen.

To proceed with the full demolition of the church, the diocese must obtain proper permits and abate the site, according to Meranti. The actual demolition is expected to begin within the next week, although with a much smaller impact on the neighborhood than the emergency steeple demolition.

The bells of varying sizes taken down from the church this week will be left with the local parish, according to the diocese, though no specific plans have been announced for their use. The only remaining Catholic parish in North Adams congregates at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church on Marshall Street.

The cross from atop the steeple was also preserved by crews and will be donated to the North Adams Historical Society, according to the diocese.

Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese, said he was not aware of any immediate plan for the bells but knew that the Rev. William Cyr, pastor at St. Elizabeth's, had requested they be kept safe. Cyr could not be reached on Tuesday.

Two cranes had worked together to dismantle the steeple and remove the bells, which were strung by chain to steel beams.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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