By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — Town officials are moving ahead to demolish a town-owned house at 35 Wolfe Ave., 14 years after voters approved buying the property.
The Board of Selectmen on Jan. 10 approved to award a contract to National Excavating & Wrecking Services, of Wethersfield in the amount of $87,530 for the remediation, demolition, debris removal and reclamation of the house that dates back from the 1850s.
A shed on the property, which has lead and asbestos, will not taken down yet but will be dealt with at a later time. After the house comes down, officials plan to remove the detached garage next but there isn’t a time frame for it. The community garden on the parcel of land will stay, according to First Selectman Gerard Smith.
The town earmarked $80,000 to take down the home and had about $74,000 left over after Eagle Environmental conducted an environmental assessment of the house and a detached carriage house on the property. Town officials took about $19,000 from contingency funds to cover the remaining balance, according to Smith.
The house is the former home of Tracy Lewis, a founder of the former Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company. The home has been used by police officers and firefighters for training over the years, but little else.
“I’m just following a decision made before my taking office,” Smith said.
In 2010, the then Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to demolish the home. This followed with an exploratory committee charged with exploring the feasibility of the home’s adaptive reuse making the same recommendation and the past board approving for the demolition.
“I’m disappointed we ended up here with having to take the house down,” selectman Michael A. Krenesky said. “I still believe there’s some value in keeping it for some type of municipal space.”
Voters approved buying the 1.5-acre property and house in 2008 for $425,000. At the time, officials planned to build a community center and library on the property. However, those plans never gained enough traction and the house has fallen into disrepair.
The board previously agreed last summer to obtain three competitive market analyses to see what the property is worth, before deciding whether to move forward with selling it.
Demolition will start weather permitting in the next 30 days and the company is ready to go, according to Smith. “Weather will determine how quickly the project is finished,” Smith said.
In June, the Planning and Zoning Commission sent a letter as a formal notice to Smith requesting the town clean up the property. The commission recently sent the Board of Selectmen a blight complaint for the property.
“There’s very little interest and no real funding to really move forward that we would be able to do with it,” Krenesky said.
Krenesky, president of Beacon Falls historical society and town historian, said the estimated cost to build a proposed a library and community center building on the land would cost about $7 million.
James Woodward, who lives on Wolfe Avenue, sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen saying his family would like to financially assist the town to move the library from Town Hall to the first floor of the Tracy Lewis house.
“We can’t just leave it as it is. As much I would love to see it reused, we have roads to work on,” Krenesky said. “If you look at the reality, our priority is getting our roads repaired.”
The town hired a salvager out of North Haven a few years ago who took light fixtures, doors, bathtubs and sinks after no one wanted any materials, according to Krenesky.
Krenesky also reached out to a well known TV program, This Old House, where producers of the show go to old houses in New England and renovate houses. He never received a response, he added.
After the board made the decision, Krenesky said he reached out Tracy Lewis’ great grandsons, John Yandell and Robert Vernon, who lived in the house in 1932 while their father worked for the U.S. Rubber Company, to inform them.
Yandell and Vernon both responded to Krenesky that the decision was disappointing but they understood it was progress.
Krenesky said he has some light fixtures and a couple hundred photos of the inside of the house that’s listed on the State Register of Historic Places according to Krenesky.
“From a historical perspective, it’s a shame,” Krenesky said.
I must make another correction, one where I misspoke. Mr Yandell is the grandson of Tracy Lewis, not Great-grandson. John just called me after reading the article.
Clarification: John Yandell is Tracy S Lewis’s great grandson. Robert Vernon, who was not related to Lewis, lived in the house while his father was employed by the US Rubber Company. Both have been following the status of the house.