The battle over the future of the Tracy Lewis house in Beacon Falls rages on despite a 2-1 vote Monday by the Board of Selectman to demolish it immediately.
Selectman Michael Krenesky, who has opposed demolishing the building on Wolfe Avenue since the town bought the 1.52-acre property in August 2008, did not back down.
He contended the town does not have the funds to demolish the building.
Although Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable did not have a quote for the cost of demolition, Krenesky provided a quote from Standard Demolition of Trumbull for about $71,000.
The town only had $80,000 in contingency funds, a pool that has dwindled as the town faces other unexpected costs, including $27,000 for a new police car, $9,000 for a hot water heater, and $24,000 for sewer line repairs at the fire house, according to Krenesky.
“This seems very simple and as always it comes down to money,” said Krenesky in an email, citing a $10 million dollar bond package to repair our streets and purchase new vehicles for the fire department.
Cable, however, said it would be cheaper to tear down the building and build a new one than restore the current building. The difference would be about $300,000.
According to Krenesky, Cable suggested using money from the original bond used to purchase the property to tear down the house, but, Krenesky said, such a change to the bond would require approval from residents.
A subcommittee previously determined that it would cost about $990,000 to renovate the house for short-term municipal use and long-term incorporation into a new library.
Robert Spear, a construction engineer who specializes in restorations in New York, said with competitive bidding the price for restoration might come down to $600,000. Spear came to that conclusion after touring the building with Krenesky.
“I was very impressed with the building and I think it has a lot of historic value,” said Spear.
Cable pointed out that Krenesky was not authorized by the town to obtain quotes or give tours of the building.
“There’s a big difference between talk and specifics in writing,” Cable said.
According to the report from the subcommittee, it would cost about $4.2 million to add a 16,000-square-foot addition. Demolishing the building and constructing a new, 19,000-square-foot building, would cost about $3.9 million.
“The building doesn’t have to be fully gutted in order to be renovated,” said Krenesky.
Cable said the eight people on the subcommittee did their due diligence in researching all the costs and options. The building would cost too much to renovate, Cable said.
“We are going to do whatever is fiscally is wise,” she said.
Plus, sitting empty, the building is a liability to the town.
“It’s not a safe place to be,” she said.
A report from the Lewis House subcommittee previously determined that the building was in good condition, but the building has sat vacant since the town bought it.
“Instead of putting it to good use, it just sits there. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Beacon Falls resident James Woodward in a phone interview.
Woodward, who has toured the house, thought that the town could use the first floor for administrative space.
“I think for less money than tearing it down, you could refurbish the main floor,” said Woodward.
Krenesky said the motion to pull down the building was premature, considering the town has no plans for a new building to take its place.
He said the town should put together a building committee to get more estimates and come up with a more specific site plan. He said the town can use a $23,000 bond it already has to maintain the building while the committee takes nine months to a year to come up with a new proposal.
“Until a bulldozer is on the property and knocking it down, there is no problem holding it back,” said Krenesky.
Krenesky, who is also the town’s historian, nominated the building to be placed on the State Register of Historic Places. The house was built in 1913 and was previously the summer home of Tracy Lewis, president of the Beacon Falls Rubber Company. The nomination was approved by Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism Nov. 3, after the Planning and Zoning Commission had voted to demolish it.
However, the historic designation does not prohibit the town from demolishing the house.
Beacon Falls resident Jennifer Fleischmann felt the house should not be demolished until the town voted on what to do with the space. She said although she liked the building, she was not opposed to building a new one as long as the town had fully considered all the options and costs, including maintenance and staff.
“I think they’re almost trying to force our hand by doing this,” Fleischmann said.
By tearing down the house, she said, the town limits its future options, including selling the property if the town decides the space is not appropriate for a library and community center. Fleischmann was worried about parking and traffic in the small neighborhood if the town were to build a big community center on Wolfe Avenue.
“This will have a huge impact on town. It shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Fleischmann said.
Cable said the town took a long time deciding what to do with the building and will take even longer to plan for its future.
“We’re not jumping into this,” she said.
Cable said she would appoint a new committee to decide what the build in the Lewis House’s place and form a long-range plan for a library and community center. Part of that planning process would involve finding sources of funding, Cable said.
“I don’t just say lets do. You have to put your money were your mouth is,” she said.
The town is constantly writing for grants from the federal government, Cable said.
Whatever happens, the bulldozers aren’t going to raze the house tomorrow and build a new one.
“With the economy the way it is, it’s going to take a while,” Cable said.