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Mayor: Amerbelle Complex is a "Safety Concern"

The building will be secured for the winter and may have to be demolished, he said.

Mayor George Apel has never been known as one to pull any punches.

And on Tuesday night, when the subject of the Amerbelle Textiles factory complex in Downtown Rockville came up, his words were quick and to the point.

"If the building goes, it will go," he said. "Our biggest concern is fire. It will collapse in a fire and it will collapse right over a waterway."

The Town Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to appropriate $75,000 to temporarily "secure and winterize" the property.

Apel said the move "will give us time to make some decisions."

The building's ownership situation was adjusted some time ago but was not an issue until Amerbelle officials announced in June that the business was closing. In 2003, Amerbelle transferred ownership of the complex to the town, but the town then quickly transferred the deed to the non-profit Hockanum Industrial Development Venture Corporation, which has been serving as a rent-collector, Economic Development Coordinator Shaun Gately said.

The rent was just about enough to cover the taxes, Gately said.

The town can still take measures to make the 250,000 square feet of property at 104 East Main St. safe, town officials said.

"The real concern here is safety," Apel said.

In a memo to the council, Apel said "numerous" attempts by Gately yielded "no immediate re-use plans for this facility, especially not without a seven-figure investment by the town."

Apel said he sought the opinions of Fire Chief William Call, Fire Marshal Ray Walker, Police Chief James Kenny and Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro and their "uniform" opinion was that the mill was "a public safety concern of the highest order."

It is the consensus of the town officials that a minor fire started by trespassers or something like an electrical malfunction, would quickly spread and engulf the building. Purcaro said the building has had no upgrades in years.

The fire, because of the building's location on a hillside corner, would be difficult to fight, Apel said. The building would almost certainly collapse into the spillway below, clog the flow of the Hockanum River and potentially flood sections of Rockville, he said.

One town official said the situation with the property "is like a bomb."

Apel said the building will be made safe for the winter, including police surveillance.

The best and perhaps only way to protect the citizenry is to demolish these buildings," Apel said in the memo. "This position has been endorsed by the
public safety officers, the director of Hockanum Industrial Development Venture Corporation and members Vernon's Risk Management Advisory Committee.

Apel said he is trying to secure funds at either the state or federal level to fund the dismantling, but added the town may have to use bonding for the work.

No estimated price tag was presented at the meeting.

Apel said the town is obtaining an initial estimate for the work and then would solicit bids for the demolition services.

"Given the age of the location of the building over the Hockanum, the demolition will be complicated and expensive," he said.

Robert B. Hurd September 19, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Let's not PANIC! The three mill structures which comprise the Amerbelle campus are irreplaceable. The stone mill through which the Hockanum River passes has an ironic connection to the downtown Rockville neighborhood. If we can spend seven figures to tear them down, we can spend seven figures to initiate their rebirth.
Lisa Perry September 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I agree about their historic value, but doubt even 7 figures will re birth them. I had hoped this would be a concern for town officials, I'm glad it is, and would support any initiative that would do anything! It's better than what I thought might happen, which is nothing and fear of a fire and all the toxins that would be put in the air/water/soil if a catastrophic fire were to happen. I lived on West St when the Saxon Mill burned, it is a serious concern.
meowkats4 September 19, 2012 at 01:11 PM
I say it should be demolished, let's not put money into gutting it out or even try cleaning it up to make it SAFE! The clean up alone and the cost is very, very expensive. This state and town has plenty of Brownfields (as they are called "Industrial Buildings"), Since 1994, close to $60 million has been spent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help rid communities of these so-called brownfield sites, including close to $12 million for removing or containing pollutants. But to date only 19 have been completely cleaned and the cases closed, according to the EPA, hardly making a dent in a vast inventory estimated to be in the thousands. http://cttalking.com/government/connecticut/brownfields-can-be-found-in-every-connecticut-community/ This town can't afford to spend the money to make this building safe from fires, or under police surveillance 24/7. This town has a lot of crime lately! You can put up the biggest fence and try to keep out the vagrants, but they will still find a way to get in! We need to make this location "SAFE for the COMMUNITY, just based on the location of this site"!!
Mark Kalina September 19, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Bob, if you were to spend seven figures to "initiate their rebirth" what it is that would occupy the site upon completion? The developer at the Roosevelt Mills complex can't seem to find the funding to finish his project, should we use funds for that too? Do we end up with renovated empty space that you can't rent? Would we then have to tear down the Amerbelle complex 10 or 20 years later anyway after it sits idle for many years? I love history and historic buildings, but we also need to be realistic about any future prospects for the building as constituted.
The Truth September 19, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Take it down, put up a community area and enjoy the natural falls!
Steven Lyons September 19, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I am always on the side of preseving our historic buildings, but this is an unusual situation and given the risks I think it unfortunatly needs to come down. At least the parts that present a direct threat to the waterway. Perhaps portions of the campus can be preserved. Try to see it in a positive light and think of how part of the natural landscape will be reclaimed. If it is landscaped and made available as a public space it could be quite a sight.
Danno September 19, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Unfortunately, Not enough was done to influence the Challenge Sailcloth company to remain in the building. They are a very strong company and they would have been financially stable to occupy the buildings for many years to come. There would not be an issue of the building being unoccupied if we could keep them in town. Not many people know about Challenge Sailcloth but they were the "make or Break" deal for the Amerbell Buildings.
burt conners September 19, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Why did the town take ownership,then knowing ahead of time it would close wait til the last minute to try to solve the problem. They should have been looking into future plans for the site long ago. It is part of the historic district.I get the part about being unoccupied but people were still working there this year and suddenly its a great hazard? Was it this dangerous when workers were in the building?Why was the town renting a building with employees if they new it was such a dangerous fire hazard? what risk were we at for liability if the building burned while occupied?I agree with Mr.Hurd here.We panic and jump the gun. Lets not forget how the great revtalization in the late 50s and early 60s destroyed landmarks that today may have brought tourists to our town.Before we allocate money to tear down and pay expensive clean up costs the town needs to look at any and all options.Many places in town could be a problem in the event of a fire. Should we knock them all down as a precaution?Perhaps demolition will be the answer,but not till we look at all options.How about converting it to a low cost storage facility for residents. Just a thought.It might even bring in revenue.
meowkats4 September 19, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Burt, I use to believe like you do on these types of issues. Just take a look around town and venture around the State of Connecticut and take a good look at Factories/Industries. These buildings over years were never upgraded to an modern day Industries. Safety must have been overlooked, they somehow must of passed in parts of the building that were being used, okay by OSHA! Ask the town how much of the building was occupied by people, with the remainder of the other parts of the building NOT IN USE nor able to enter, because of safety issues. In other words, the working area was fixed so it passed codes, yet other areas were unsafe! We already have plenty of unused buildings that can be used for STORAGE FACILITIES!!!
Abigail September 19, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I vote demolish. It would be too costly to revive the buildings. To be real - in this economy - I don't see it happening. Cut our losses and focus our town money elsewhere!
John Dolle September 19, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Can anyone name the mayor of Vernon when the property was appropriated from the former owner ?
gerald gergler September 19, 2012 at 10:34 PM
danno i agree i have worked in this complex for amerbelle for 21 years challenge realy wanted to stay at least to ocupy bld. 14 they have some manufacturing there and employ a lot of local folks and maybe could have expanded operations . it's all about the up front cost maybe they could have been afforded some up front help
gerald gergler September 19, 2012 at 10:42 PM
at this moment this facility has a very intact fire protection system if this is alowwed to go dorment that will present the real danger of course this means maintaining the heating systems
Rae Barter September 20, 2012 at 10:15 AM
http://www.montaguebookmill.com/index.html Inspiration for what could be!
Abigail September 21, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Demolish. I worked in construction for a time and again, I say too costly - way too costly to be bothered with renovating. Besides, I don't see any other mill projects in town completed as promised they would be how many years ago? I'd hate to see this be another 20+ year multi-million dollar project that goes nowhere. I mean really, what tourists will we be attracting? I think not. Let's be realistic folks.
Bert September 21, 2012 at 09:54 PM
John: I think it was Ellen Marmer.
vinny t September 22, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Spend 70,000 to safeguard the building? how much will demo and clean up cost? I know also about construction and demo. Are we dealing with asbestos,ground chemicals and other hazards.Demo and clean up costs near a river like this will add more cost. I dont have the answer but i would like to see the $ amount demo and the cost of making the area safe after will be.Has the town attempted to sell the property at a low cost for any other use? If the end result is demo. the town needs to make sure the contract includes a salvage clause . This will recovery money by the salvage of copper,aluminum,and other metals that are worth thousands of dollars. Even brick and beams can be recycled these days.
Elle Fagan October 03, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Architect Hurd is so right ! WE all know that thought, focus, reason and intelligence and SANE collection of fact for a good decision win every time and then we DESERVE the win because will have EARNED it with top form in the matter and the best results! Thank you Robert Hurd AIA.
Elle Fagan October 03, 2012 at 05:25 PM
To restore and repurpose the historic cores of the two old mills in question is key...the unsightly additions that came later can come down to make GREEN SPACE for the best result. The Green Space will further enhance the Historic Core Structure Restoration, and provide Green health improvements in the neighborhood. Although I favor underground parking, it may also provide some space for that but mostly a beautiful mini-park so that first-time visitors will go "AHHHHH! " rather than "Eeeyyeeeuww" when they approach the beautiful historic center. Someone suggested a micro-brewery and accompanying restaurant - since such were often constructed at mills with water wheels to grind the grains, this is the most artistic idea. Upscale of course! Visitor center/hub it would instantly become. Just a thought
Elle Fagan October 03, 2012 at 05:27 PM
urbanminers.com - they clean, clear, and sell the salvage to defray the cost.
Elle Fagan October 03, 2012 at 05:28 PM
NO...Demolish is destructive and mindless...please.
Elle Fagan October 03, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Don't pick on our Mayor, former or otherwise. It will be a top asset in the end, unless we are determined to walk in darkness and behave like an ignorant mob.

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