Best days behind town-owned home

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No decision yet on future of Wolfe Avenue property

The town-owned home at 35 Wolfe Ave. in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — The town-owned property at 35 Wolfe Ave. has seen better days.

Some of the windows and the doors of the house are boarded up. The portico has been removed, and the Tyvek house wrap underneath is visible in places. The rear porches have begun rotting, and there are vines growing up the sides of the building.

Robert Wild, a neighbor at 51 Wolfe Ave., didn’t mince words on his opinion of the house.

“It’s a disgrace,” Wild said. “It brings the value of my house down.”

Selectman Michael Krenesky agrees with Wild, to an extent.

When asked if the building could be considered blighted under town ordinance, Krenesky said the fact that it is owned by the town may be the only thing keeping it from that designation.

“The house is very close to be considered a challenge for blight,” Krenesky said.

However, Krenesky still sees the diamond under all the rough.

Krenesky can effortlessly recall the history of the house and the carriage house at the rear of the property, point out the historic items in the house, and talk about the significance the house has played in Beacon Falls throughout the years.

The original house was built in 1850 and renovated around 1900 when it was bought by Tracy Lewis, the president of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co., Krenesky said.

In August 2008, the town took out a $425,000 bond to purchase the house. Krenesky said $375,000 was used the buy the property and $50,000 was set aside for upkeep and maintenance while the town decided what to do with the house.

Since then, there has been no additional money put toward the house and the money from the bond has been spent, Krenesky said.

The most recent proposal for the property is to build a new 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot library and community center. A very preliminary estimate placed the cost of the project at about $6 million.

That plan has yet to get off the ground.

In 2016, the town created the Community/Media Center Building Committee, which Krenesky sits on, to look into the feasibility of moving forward with the plan for the property.

The committee requested $60,000 in the 2017-18 municipal budget for architectural designs for the proposed building.

However, the Board of Finance didn’t feel that was the best use of the town’s money since there isn’t a consensus with what residents want to see built there. The money wasn’t included in the budget.

Board of Finance Chairman Joe Rodorigo reiterated that point during an interview last week.

“They don’t seem to have a majority community support. We have been clear about getting a consensus from the community,” Rodorigo said.

The finance board recommended bringing the plan to the residents at a referendum to see if it’s something they want.

Rodorigo said if the committee could show that the town is interested in the project, the board would be open to funding it.

“If they showed support we would finance it, we would put money in the budget. However, until we have a consensus from the public, the Board of Finance has taken position that it is not the best use of taxpayers’ money,” Rodorigo said.

Krenesky echoed some of the board’s concerns, saying there are a lot of things the town needs to spend its money on at the moment. He pointed out the town recently went out to bid on a new fire truck for Beacon Hose Company No. 1.

“I’m not very confident the project would pass at a referendum,” Krenesky said.

However, Krenesky said the committee will continue its task of assessing what the town wants in a library and media center and presenting that to the residents.

The committee might have a difficult time convincing some residents, such as Wild, that the media center and library would be the best use of the land and money.

“[The library] wouldn’t benefit me at all,” Wild said. “I say let the town fix it up and rent it out or sell it.”

There is also no money earmarked for fixing known problems at the house or demolishing it.

Rodorigo said whatever the town ultimately decides to do with the house, it will be put into a bond rather than taken directly from the budget.

According to Krenesky, the town has a rough estimate of $80,000 to demolish the house. That does not include the cost to refill the hole left by the demolition.

Krenesky said the main infrastructure of the house itself is still in good shape, and the roof is not leaking, but there are certain issues the town should be concerned about.

The porches on the back of the house have begun to rot and could pose some safety concerns, Krenesky said.

“We are dismantling the house piece by piece,” Krenesky said.

On the recommendation of Jim Baldwin, the town’s building inspector, the town turned off the water and electricity at the house and boarded up some of the windows and doorways.

“There are some safety concerns that if someone broke into the building the town would be liable if they were injured,” Krenesky said.

In the end, Krenesky knows the town may have to make a difficult call when it comes to which direction to take with the house.

“It could end up being an insurance liability,” Krenesky said. “The right thing to do, and it breaks my heart, is to go in and take the building down.”