Strathmore and Southworth buildings ‘race against time’

  • Former Southworth Paper Company building in Turners Falls. File photo

  • A building that is part of the former Strathmore factory along the Turners Falls power canal. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2018 10:13:06 PM

MONTAGUE — The Strathmore and Southworth buildings continue to be of concern to town officials because of risks of a collapsing chimney or fires. According to Town Planner Walter Ramsey, the two former factories along the power canal are in a “race against time.” The longer they sit, abandoned, the more they will deteriorate, he predicted.

“We hope for reuse as soon as possible,” Ramsey said. “We’re welcoming and willing to work with developers, and we hope to make it happen.”

Strathmore building

The Strathmore building, on the strip of land between the power canal and the Connecticut River, is owned by the town, which had to take ownership of it for back taxes several years ago when its owners essentially gave up on it.

That factory has been mostly empty since then and a large section of the complex was destroyed by a suspicious fire several years ago. The town has had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to protect the building from vandals and intruders.

While there is currently a demolition study being conducted of the Strathmore, the building is deteriorating.

The most recent sign of deterioration: the 100-foot-tall chimney has been losing bricks.

To assess the chimney at the Strathmore, the Selectboard unanimously approved an allocation of $3,000 to pay Boston Chimney and Tower, which will be asked to bring possible solutions to the board.

Building Inspector Chris Ric, came before the Selectboard on Monday to request the use of money from the Community Development Unsafe/Unhealthy Buildings fund for engineering for the chimney.

In a letter to the Town Administrator Steve Ellis, Rice and DPW Superintendent Tom Bergeron, Fire Chief John Zellmann said the chimney at the Strathmore is “deteriorating at a rapid pace.”

He said over the past few months, bricks have fallen from the chimney and while checking the security of the former paper mill, Zellmann said he “noticed large sections of the chimney that are compromised and fears that a failure of the chimney is imminent.”

He said he has concerns about public safety for Eagle Creek, its employees, and Canal Road which are within the collapse zone and recommended the town deal with the issue as soon as possible.

Rice told the board he was directed to find an engineer to assess the chimney.

“We were recommended to Boston Chimney and Tower. There are not a lot of companies that specialize in 100-foot chimneys,” Rice said. “We did get them to come through and give us a quote on assessing it and giving us some guidance on where to go.”

Rice said Zellmann will work with the group to allow access to the chimney to assess it as well as provide them with photographs of it.

Selectman Mike Nelson said the reason for the urgency is the potential threat to public safety.

Montague Town Planner,Walter Ramsey said the Strathmore Mill Demolition Design Project is underway.

Using a $25,000 from the town and $115,000 of federal community development funds through a partnership with Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the town contracted Tighe and Bond to design and prepare bid-ready plans and specifications for the demolition of the building, according to Ramsey.

“It isn’t as easy as having a wrecking ball go through it,” Ramsey said. “It’s an intricate process. The town is doing everything within its limited means to prepare the area for reuse.”

Some proposed uses of the property are a park or parking to support the reuse of the Southworth property.

Town officials also worry that the Southworth mill could wind up like its neighboring Strathmore.

Southworth Building

The Turners Falls Water Department also came before the Selectboard about the Strathmore and the Southworth building as well.

Superintendent of the Turners Falls Water District, Michael Brown, informed the Selectboard the water district intends to shut the water distribution and fire system at the mill complex on Nov. 19.

“(This) includes the Southworth, Strathmore and Swift River Hydro Operations buildings,” Brown said. “We’re doing this for a couple reasons: one, in Southworth, there is a 3,000-gallon-a-day leak going on, and it’s doing some damage down there.”

He said the valves are old and they won’t hold, with nothing from the outside to shut them down.

Brown said the second reason is that there is no heat in the Southworth or Strathmore building and the 10 sprinkler riser systems in both buildings have only one functioning sprinkler between them.

Brown said Fire Chief Zellmann is aware of the matter.

“The rest of the pipes are shut inside building, and if it’s not heated in one way or another, they’re going to freeze and let go,” Brown said. “We sent letters to the Southworth owners to try to get them to do their repairs, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to do that. On Nov. 19, we’ll be shutting the valve on 5th and Canal street, just before it goes over the bridge.”

Brown said the water district has been communicating with Swift River Hydro, and the company is going to come up with a different way to cool its turbines because it won’t have any water for that.

When the Southworth Paper Mill went out of business in August 2017, the company stopped maintaining the building at some point in the year since, according to Zellmann.

Now the building is not secured and has no functioning fire alarms or sprinklers.

The fire department gave notices to the building’s owners several times in the past year, Zellmann said. In August, the town of Montague and the Turners Falls Fire District complained to Franklin County Superior Court, and the court granted a preliminary injunction, requiring Southworth to fix its sprinklers and fire alarms and either secure the windows and doors or have a 24-hour watchman.

The company had seven days to comply after being served a notice. It did not do so.

In October, the town was approved by the court to enter the mill and take any and all actions necessary to keep the building secure as well as place a lien on the property.

Until Southworth went out of business last August, the mill had been in operation since 1900. Southworth took ownership of the mill in 2006 as part of its acquisition of Esleek Paper, the original owner of the mill.

When it closed, Southworth had about 120 employees throughout Turners Falls, Agawam and Seattle, Wash. The Turners Falls mill had employed about 60 people.

In January, a Maine-based company called SBD Greentech took steps to purchase the building, but backed out in February. In May the town took a tax title on the property, which protects its interest in the unpaid taxes on the property.

As of February of this year, Southworth owes the town of Montague $275,000 in unpaid taxes and fees, none of which has been paid, according to the town treasurer/collector’s office.


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