BERLIN – The town is expected to pursue demolition of the middle portion of the old processing plant at Heron Park following a tour of the site this week.
At an on-site Heron Park work session Tuesday, a representative of Davis, Bowen & Friedel (DBF) guided Mayor Zack Tyndall, Councilmen Jay Knerr and Steve Green and several members of the public through the run-down structure. Looking past the broken glass and graffiti-covered walls, officials highlighted the structural integrity of some of the building.
“I was certainly glad to see a strong turnout for the plant tour,” Knerr said. “One that I believe was worthwhile. It was an eye opener for many there. DBF did a great job prioritizing the sections that needed to be demolished and those that are worth saving. There are large sections of the building that could be repurposed for town use or by an interested party. The one thing we can all agree on is that it’s nice to see this process moving forward.”
The DBF representative walked attendees through the expansive building, pointing out the sections toward the middle that were targeted for demolition with the town’s $500,000 grant. There, he pointed to the roof and talked about the likelihood of corrosion of bar joists.
“I’m happy we had the opportunity to walk through the building together to understand the zones as prioritized by DBF,” Tyndall said, adding that the officials would be discussing a demolition request for proposals (RFP) in November.
Green viewed Tuesday’s work session as an important step in the process.
“It was insightful to get an inside look at the abandoned chicken plant buildings. The engineering firm ranked the buildings from worst to best, and it seems like at least three structures need to be removed for safety and hopefully can be covered within the scope of the demo grant the town has secured. There are at least three unsafe structures that must be removed and the consultant pointed those out and why they were dangerous.”
“It’s also important for the future RFP to also include removal of debris on the exterior grounds that make the property unsafe. There are old utilities and other concrete waste to be removed,” Green said. “There are parts of the building the engineer views as in good shape, and we knew that already. These structures were what the developer the town had been working with planned to refurbish.”
Green and several others on the tour were surprised by the amount of graffiti and signs of trespassing — including a mattress — located within the building.
“It’s obvious that no one has been monitoring the building over the years,” said resident Marie Velong. “The town should never have left the building to deteriorate as much as it has. The demolition debate would never have been necessary. We were lucky no one has been injured in the open building. Anyone else would have been forced to do something with the building or have it condemned. This returns to the code enforcement issue, as always.”
She added that the building seemed sound to her.
“I feel that the fuss over the cost of demolition exceeding the grant money was just a way to influence everyone to feel that we had to sell it to Gillis, who acted as though he was doing us a favor by taking on the project,” she said.
While the RFP process plays out, Green would like to see the town make immediate efforts to secure the property from trespassing. Portions of the building are wide open to public access.
“It’s clear from all the broken windows, littering and graffiti inside the building that the site has been entered often,” he said. “There is even a mattress. The town needs to address this liability issue by securing the property to prevent kids and other folks from gaining access so easily. It was disturbing to see the easy access.”
Ron Cascio, a member of the town’s planning commission, acknowledged the filthy conditions of the building but said he found the tour informative.
“It should have happened two years ago,” he said. “You didn’t need to have a trained eye to know there’s structural integrity there. There’s a lot of viable structure there. We need to come up with a plan to resurrect as much as we can.”
Troy Purnell, former councilman and former owner of the property, agreed. He said he stopped by for the walk-through because he’d heard a lot of rumors about the property and wanted to see it for himself.
“There’s so much of that building that’s reusable,” he said. “What the engineer said about what needs to go and what needs to stay is spot on. The town is on the right track.”
“Generally, I think the building is well made and solid and can be repurposed,” she said.
She’d like to see the town consider repurposing it as a public works facility. She pointed out it already has office space as well as a large industrial area and was on a nearly nine acre site.
Like others Velong was surprised by the extent local teenagers have clearly visited the site but said she was glad the public had the chance to visit the building as part of a sanctioned tour.
“It was a great idea to include the public,” she said. “Now it’s not this mystery building.”