Chimney swifts cause pause in demolition
Construction workers hold up phones to record the first exterior demolition of the old Hope Street courthouse on Wednesday.
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Chimney swift birds flock back to their roost in the chimney of the former Greenfield courthouse at dusk Wednesday. Demolition of the rear half of the building, which includes the chimney, began Wednesday, and the migratory birds may lose thier home.
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GREENFIELD — A huge piece of Franklin County history is slated to come down this week, but a flock of hundreds of small birds could put the project on pause.
Demolition of the rear of the county courthouse on Hope Street began Wednesday, with crews taking bites out of the roof’s southern edge with an excavator’s clamshell bucket.
The discovery of hundreds of roosting birds may put the demolition on hold. Migratory chimney swifts have been using the courthouse’s chimney as a temporary home as they prepare to breed.
As many as a thousand chimney swifts showed up in early May, according to Andrew Vitz, ornithologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Vitz said most of the birds have moved on, except for a couple hundred that forage during the day and sleep in the chimney at night.
Vitz said the birds’ nesting sites are protected under the migratory bird treaty, but the birds appear to be using the courthouse chimney to roost. Vitz said the birds typically roost en masse until mid-June, when mating pairs will fly off to take residence in chimneys of their own.
If nests are discovered in the courthouse chimney, the structure can’t come down, he said. The chimney also can’t come down while the birds are inside, said Vitz, but they can be coaxed to come out, and the chimney taken down safely.
Vitz said that his department would draft a list of procedures for demolition workers to follow to ensure the birds are not harmed.
A spokesman for the Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance said the status of the demolition remained unclear Wednesday evening.
If the chimney can’t come down now, it will eventually. The chimney swifts will leave when it’s time to migrate back to the Amazon Basin for the winter.
Once the building comes down and the rubble is cleaned up, crews will spend the next three years putting up a new $60 million courthouse in its place. It will be light-years ahead of the old 1930s courthouse, with a slew of new security features, courtroom audio systems, and other improvements.
The courts relocated to their temporary home in the Greenfield Corporate Center in February, and crews began to ready the old site for demolition. They stripped the building of its furnishings, set aside some reusable parts like windows, doors, chandeliers and other decor, disconnected utilities and removed the building’ asbestos. Much of the interior was gutted.
While the rear of the building will be razed to make way for a 104,000 square-foot addition, the Main Street end will remain intact — at least on the outside. Contractors cut a swath between the two sections of the courthouse last week in preparation for demolition.
“The front half of the existing courthouse will stay, but the inside will be brand-new construction,” said William DuLong, project manager for the state Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
“DCAMM is committed to preserving the historic properties of the building,” said DCAMM spokeswoman Meghan Kelly.
Kelly said the new courthouse will include photos, artwork and decor from the old courthouse, as well as many of the antique chandeliers and other fixtures that lit the Depression-era building. Large concrete eagle medallions that once graced the ridge line of the rear building will be incorporated into the interior of the new courthouse as well.
DCAMM will also re-use parts of the windows and doors removed from the original building, and restore the doors on the historic side of the building.
The agency is also taking care not to damage neighboring historic buildings.
DCAMM has installed vibration sensors on several nearby buildings, to determine whether they’ll be effected by the heavy equipment used in demolition. Visual strain gauges were also placed on cracks and other possible weak spots of surrounding buildings, to measure any movement.
The buildings include All Souls Church, the library and post office, the YMCA and The Recorder.
Kelly said those sensors haven’t registered any “reportable events,” meaning that the pre-demolition work hasn’t brought any cause for concern.
You can reach David Rainville at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 @RecorderRain