St. Francis steeple removed in North Adams, but more work to be done

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Photo Gallery | Steeple of former St. Francis Church taken off

Video | The steeple atop St. Francis of Assisi Church in North Adams is carefully removed from the church by a crane.

Video | The steeple from St. Francis in North Adams is destroyed.

NORTH ADAMS — After an arduous three-day demolition process, the steeple that stood atop St. Francis of Assisi Church for more than a century was destroyed on Wednesday.

A tall yellow crane held tension on the steeple's peak, while workers inside a basket on a second crane worked their way around the base, sawing through the supports.

After several hours, enough wooden beams had been severed to allow the yellow crane to lift a roughly 50-foot portion of the steeple off the church as onlookers gathered near Union and Eagle streets.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield ordered that the historic church, which has been vacant since it closed in 2008, be demolished following a partial collapse of its steeple last week. An investigation by engineers sent in by the diocese and city building inspectors concluded the only recourse was to raze the church, according to a statement the diocese released earlier this week.

The steeple's destruction provided no immediate relief for residents of the adjacent "flatiron" building on Eagle Street, who have been displaced since the structure was deemed unsafe on Saturday.

Fire Director Stephen Meranti, who has overseen the city's response to the demolition, said flatiron residents were not expected to be allowed back in their homes Wednesday evening.

"Safety is No. 1 with this whole operation," Meranti said.

Engineers and inspectors are expected to re-evaluate the structure on Thursday.

No matter what happens with the residences, Mayor Richard Alcombright said residents should expect North Church Street and the downtown section of Eagle Street to remain closed to traffic through the weekend, as at least one crane will likely remain in front of the church.

The Friendship Center food pantry on Eagle Street was forced to alter its place of distribution to, coincidentally, the Steeple City Plaza on Wednesday. Nearby Village Pizza has been forced to operate from its back door on Center Street this week.

The demolition was a stop-and-start process on Wednesday, with workers frequently coming down from the basket to recharge or switch out batteries on their equipment.

A small crowd gathered outside the St. Joseph's Court elderly housing complex across the street to watch the demolition, and many had cameras to capture the moment the steeple came down.

When asked if he was satisfied with the progress of the demolition thus far, Alcombright said he is unsure because, "I've never seen this done, and I hope to never see it again in my life."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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