Turners commences Strathmore repairs
Fire chief succeeds in getting town’s attention
Strathmore Paper mill buildings along the canal in Turners Falls. This week, the town will begin cleaning and patching the former mill complex in the interest of fire safety. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
Aerial view of Strathmore Sunday afternoon. 07/05/27 Bird's Eye Views/Franz
TURNERS FALLS — The Board of Selectmen this week allotted $20,000 to begin addressing the requirements of an order from the Turners Falls fire chief to clean and patch the former Strathmore Paper mill complex in the interest of fire safety.
The money is to come from the community development discretionary account, and includes smaller fixes such as replacing plastic over broken windows and equipment to begin the removal of paper rolls stored in one building.
“I think we’re just talking about seed money to get things started,” said Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio. Items such as roof repair could require a town meeting appropriation in future, he said.
Fire Chief Robert Escott Jr.’s order lists holes in the floor, roof leaks, combustible material, inoperable sprinklers, upper-floor passageways that end in space where a building in the former mill burned to the ground in a 2007 arson.
Escott’s order includes designation of the complex as an “exterior fire attack building only,” meaning firefighters would not enter the buildings in the event of a fire.
“That was something that we would have taken into consideration had the town said it was not interested in correcting any of these problems,” Escott said Tuesday.
The former paper mill has been all but vacant for years, but a portion of one building is owned by a hydroelectric company with, it appears, an employee living on-site.
The employee apartment was one issue raised in the order, but Escott wrote in a follow-up letter that it could be maintained provided Swift River Hydro obtains the proper permits from the town, with fire and building code inspections, and secures drinkable water.
Escott said his department may have responded to a few more calls this winter than in the past — recent issues have included frozen pipes and sprinkler malfunctions — but the move was motivated by the complex’s continued deterioration.
Escott said the order follows discussion with the town building inspector and the employee in charge of all town buildings.
“In discussions with them it seems like there probably should have been a little more activity than there has been, so in order to get everybody’s attention we, the Fire Department, issued an order to do a little work and it was successful in getting everybody’s attention and they’re now coming up with a plan to address the issue that we had with it,” Escott said.
The town took the complex in 2010, from an investment group planning a performance art space, for nonpayment of more than half a million dollars in unpaid taxes and interest accrued by former owner Jerry Jones.
Town Planner Walter Ramsey said the town has recently issued a new request for proposals, the most flexible to date, offering the former mill complex to developers in whole or in part.
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