NORTON — The Elm Street site where a new town hall and community/senior center were proposed has more contamination and building problems than previously thought.
Building Inspector/Commissioner Christopher Carmichael has condemned buildings at the former Reed and Barton/Eureka site, declaring them unsafe, and ordered part of nearby Cross Street closed because of the condition of some of the structures.
There are holes in floors and daylight showing through roofs, and those holes have been expanding, he said. The buildings have been repeatedly boarded up, and town officials have worried for a few years about someone getting injured or the buildings catching fire.
“It’s to the point we can’t board it up anymore. The floors are letting go, the ceilings are letting go,” Carmichael said, adding the buildings are bulging. “They’re starting to list. A good wind or snowstorm could cause them to fall.”
The buildings appear to be holding up one another, Carmichael said, adding, “When one goes, it’s going to be a domino effect. That’s what I fear.”
It will cost an estimated $500,000 to remove the worst buildings.
“We own the threat,” even though the town doesn’t own the property, Carmichael said. “It’s a public safety issue.”
Selectmen have voted to authorize the building commissioner to take down the buildings, but how to pay for the demolition remains up in the air.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Carmichael said, contending the town needs to sit down with state and environmental representatives. “We need to figure out a game plan to move forward.”
Jon Kitchen of Civil and Environmental Consultants of Raynham, which the town has contracted with money that had been appropriated for the town building complex planning, also recently updated selectmen on the situation.
Kitchen, a town resident, explained the site had been used for textile work, woodworking and later plating,which involved metals. Some lead and oil contamination has been found.
The site was virtually abandoned when Reed and Barton, a famous silversmith based in Taunton whose history dated to the early 1800s, declared bankruptcy in 2015. Some money was set aside in the bankruptcy proceedings for cleanup but a lot has been spent, Kitchen said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency have been cleaning up the site, with some sediment removed.
The DEP has installed monitoring wells, nearby private wells have been tested, and the EPA has removed a smokestack and some other structures.
However, asbestos removal and other work is needed before a building can be taken down so the EPA to get at an underground oil tank that may be leaking.
Selectmen and town officials recently requested and got approval from the finance committee for a reserve fund transfer of $49,785 for asbestos abatement.
The EPA and DEP only cover costs of asbestos that is an immediate threat. One recent estimate is it would cost $1.3 million for asbestos abatement and demolition of the buildings.
New board of selectmen members Renee Deley and Jack Conway have been pushing for more information and have said they feel some have been misled by the potential cost impact on the town.
“I don’t think that message was as clear as it could be,” Deley said.
Town Manager Michael Yunits has repeatedly maintained the town will continue to search out grant funds for assessment and cleanup and would never take possession of the site unless it was clean.
Town officials are also contacting Norton’s regional planning agency, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, and the state Attorney General’s office for financial help.
Grant money is available for redevelopment of such “brownfield sites,” but the town wasn’t awarded a similar assessment grant it sought.
“Redevelopment drives cleanup,” Kitchen said. “It’s not the type of site no one would want to build on based on what we know today.”
The consultant mentioned municipal use of the land and said multi-family buildings are another possibility. “Having lived through Shpack, I understood the fact we weren’t going to take it if it was dirty,” selectmen Chairman Brad Bramwell said., refering to the former local landfill and Superfund site
At a June 3 town meeting, many of the more than 500 residents in attendance agreed with local officials and the building committee to hold off on a new town hall and community center because of the site problems.
The request had been for $25 million for the buildings, which also would have required a special election to increase taxes.
Building committee members are now revisiting other sites.