An expensive conundrum: $400k or demolition?

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CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — It's been eight years since the town of Chesterfield moved its offices out of the pre-Civil War building into a brand new building just down the road.

And in those eight years, the old town office building has been vacant while the Board of Selectmen wrestled with how to find a buyer, or even an occupant.

"The town has dabbled with the idea of offering the space to a business, whether non-profit or for-profit," wrote Board Chairman Jon McKeon in an email to the Reformer.

"We did get the word out to any groups we could think of, including the town department, the historical society, parks and recreation, the American legion ... we sent a letter to see if there was any interest," said Norman VanCor, a member of the board.

McKeon said many people in Chesterfield consider the old town office building an integral part of the town center, which includes the town library, Town Hall, the historical society building, the school, the fire department and the new town office building. But on April 4, Don Brehm from the Chesterfield Economic Development Committee, Rodney Parsons, the town's Code Enforcement Officer, and VanCor, took a walk through the building.

VanCor presented his findings at a recent board meeting, noting there was mold in the building, water dripping onto the floors and even a pile of snow in the basement.

Along with the problems identified by VanCor, McKeon noted that any new owner would have to deal with lead paint and asbestos, which is not unusual for buildings of this vintage. "Although these are not insurmountable items, the town did not want to put money into the building without a tenant for the space to then get a return on the investment," wrote McKeon.

VanCor said the estimate of more than $400,000 to renovate the building is just to "bring it up to code" and doesn't include some of the work that would need to be done to make it habitable.

"Five or six years ago, the issue was brought to Town Meeting to ask the residents if they wanted the building demolished and the hole filled in or to let the building sit empty without much cost to the town," wrote McKeon. "The town voted to keep the building and pay a minimal cost for maintaining the building. The exterior of the building was rehabbed, scraped and painted and rotted siding and trim replaced by volunteers over that summer. Until recently, the building has sat and been in relatively the same shape as it was in the past, a bit worn but comfortable. Unfortunately, over the winter there has been some water intrusion, most likely from the roof, which has created some issues."

The Board of Selectmen recently voted to place an article before the town at Town Meeting 2018 to raise money to demolish the building.

Cornelia Jenness, the president of the board of the Chesterfield Historical Society, said the building was constructed around 1845 and played host to a number of families including the Marshes, the Estlers and the Clarks. In 1981, the town bought the building and moved its offices there from a small backroom in the Town Hall.

"It's a gloomy picture," said VanCor. "We are in a difficult spot. We want to save it, but realistically, it's just not feasible. This building doesn't seem to fit into our future."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.

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