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High costs put chill on vision of transforming the old Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain building in Adams

Historic grain building to be centerpiece of new Adams park project

The old Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain building at Cook and Columbia streets in Adams was to become the centerpiece of a new park. But officials are concerned about rising costs and the likelihood that the historic structure would be little more than a shell. 

ADAMS — What was visualized in 2018 as a new park for Adams, meant to open in 2020 on the site of the old Hoosac Valley Coal and Grain building, could require still more funding.

Faced with having to pay up to $1 million to stabilize all the buildings, the Select Board balked Wednesday, directing a town department to focus on other capital needs.

The plan has been to stabilize the building and grain elevator on the approximately 1-acre property at Cook and Columbia streets.

“To be really honest, I’m conflicted about the coal and grain building. It’s something I think about a lot, and it’s caused me a lot of stress,” said Eammon Coughlin, the town’s community development director.

“I’m also conflicted,” board Chair John Duval said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m sure the board’s conflicted on this. The building is very unique.”

Member Howard Rosenberg said the “right side of my brain says find a creative solution, but the left side says, take it down.”

Site’s history

The park, in development since the early 2000s, would celebrate the grain tower and seed store, which are considered iconic to the town’s history.

The site was once a busy center of commerce, with trains loading up grain from the tower and local customers stocking up on seed and coal. It was built circa 1850, according to the town’s historical commission, and stopped operations as a grain elevator in the 1950s.

After that, it served as a retail store for pet and animal feed and energy sources like coal. The site has no official “historic” designation.

In its discussion Wednesday, the board took stock of the many steps, and expenses, that lie ahead.

Board Vice Chair Christine Hoyt observed, after quizzing Coughlin, that it will be “two years out before we’re even touching the building that’s continuing to deteriorate and become a safety hazard.”

That’s because the town first has to apply for design funding, then issue a request for proposals, then seek construction funding in a subsequent year.

Board members ultimately said they’d rather Coughlin focus his department’s block grant requests on road repaving, sidewalk replacement and housing rehab. They said the town should return later to the issue.

“Wait and see is basically saying, ‘It’s coming down,’” said board member Richard Blanchard.

Spending to date

The town received roughly $400,000 in block grant funding to develop and design the park, close to the Berkshire Scenic Railway, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail and the Hoosic River.

The site itself would include walkways, benches, picnic tables, trees, lawn, parking and a small dog park.

Coughlin said a $26,000 town-funded study found it would cost more than $700,000 just to stabilize the grain elevator, “not even to get people inside.”

“It would be just to keep it up in the air and weatherize it, along with replacing rotted structural timber and to get maybe limited electrical service into the building,” Coughlin said. “It’s really to turn the building into a monument or a shell. It wouldn’t have much function for the town. It’s a big investment just to keep the building from falling down.”

Envisioned originally as a space for restrooms, a snack shack and exhibit space, the elevator building could now be subject to demolition.

“When we had a kickoff meeting for the study, we walked in with the architects, and everyone’s heart sank when they saw how bad it really is, how much it’s degraded,” Coughlin said in an interview before the meeting. “We have a good assessment of the reality of what it’s going to take to fix this building up, so we need to make some decisions at this point on how the town wants to proceed with it.”

Money for the project could come from a block grant or town appropriation.

Coughlin cited other pressing projects.

“It is a big ask, considering all the other needs in town,” he said.

Town Administrator Jay Green said the town’s community development staff has lots of capital needs “and not that much funding to cover them all.”

“It will be a difficult decision as to whether or not we move ahead with trying to save the structure,” Green said in an email, referring to the park project.

The site underwent a large-scale environmental cleanup that concluded in 2022, paid for with help from an EPA grant of a few hundred thousand dollars, according to Coughlin.

Sten Spinella can be reached at sspinella@berkshireeagle.com or 860-853-0085.

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