Bucksport building considered public danger

Posted Sept. 28, 2010, at 12:40 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Wilson Hall, the 159-year-old former seminary building, is deteriorating.

Its condition may be bad enough for town officials to have it demolished.

Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Hammond will raise that possibility with town councilors at their meeting Thursday night. Councilors could seek a court order to have the building repaired or torn down.

The three-story building, which sports a large bell tower, has been vacant for close to four decades and has had nothing done to it in terms of maintenance or repairs during that time, according to Hammond. It is now in poor condition.

“This has been an issue for several years,” Hammond said Monday. “It has not seen proper maintenance, and the structure is in danger of falling into the ground.”

The roof is leaking, allowing water inside that is causing damage to the wooden structural members; there is a noticeable lean to the bell tower; and the interior is unstable, he said. There are areas where the floorboards are rotten and someone could easily fall through them, he said.

If the bell tower collapsed, Hammond said, it could do enough damage to the wooden supports to bring down the exterior brick walls with it.

Those concerns are compounded, Hammond said, by the fact that children are breaking into the building, despite the fact that it has been boarded up for a number of years. Hammond said he is concerned someone could get hurt inside.

“I don’t even like to go in there,” he said. “It’s dangerous to be in that building.”

Hammond said he has discussed the issue with the town attorney and one option to deal with the problem is to file a complaint in Superior Court. The town could seek a court order for the owner to demolish or repair the building.

“When you look at the figures to bring it up to proper standards or to demolish it, I think demolition is going to be the desired choice,” he said.

This is not the first time the town has raised concerns about the condition of Wilson Hall, nor is it the first time the building has faced demolition.

Wilson Hall was built in 1851 for East Maine Conference Seminary and was part of the campus later used by an oblate religious order for missionary training and education.

The building, located on Oak Hill overlooking Fort Knox and the Penobscot River, is listed on the Maine Historic Register. In 1999 it was added to the list of Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Properties by Maine Preservation, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the state’s architectural heritage.

In 2001, the Town Council, concerned about the condition of the building, began condemnation proceedings that ended after a contractor hired by owner Aaron Gleich determined that the building was structurally sound. More than nine years later, nothing more has been done to maintain the building, according to Hammond.

In 2002, the town’s planning board conditionally approved a subdivision plan for the property that would have allowed Gleich to create apartment units in the building. The council rejected his request to create a tax increment financing district for that project, and nothing more came of it.

If town councilors share his concern, Hammond said the issue definitely would go to the court. If the town seeks a summary judgment, the court could issue a decision within 10 days of the complaint being filed, he said.

The town could opt for a lengthier process, which would involve the council condemning the building.

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