Demolishing historic mill complex is the wrong way to go

BELLOWS FALLS — Sustainable Valley Group and the Bellows Falls Historical Society have put literature and photos on large posters in the People's United Bank window and hosted a public forum about the proposed demolition of the TLR Mill Complex at Windham Antique Center on Feb. 22.

We have done so because we feel it is important for voters to have multiple perspectives on this issue before committing the funds: $100,000 to start, plus the liability of testing and potential discovery of contamination disposal, discovery of excess costs associated with saving the canal wall while demolishing the structure on top it that has been supporting it for nearly 150 years.

The TLR Mill Complex is representative of the rich paper industry history from the Bellows Falls Industrial Zone, and demolition goes against the goals and policies of historic preservation and adaptive reuse in our town plan.

There are many other reasons to consider preservation and redevelopment of this facility:

• International Paper started in this complex, and while the company left in early 1900s, it is a successful worldwide paper manufacturer today, with 55,000 employees in 24 countries.

• The first commissioned canal in the United States shares a wall with the foundation of this complex and powered this complex and the Grist Mill in the late 1800s. It ran through this mill complex and through other facilities still standing along the riverfront.

• There have been many hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in from donors locally and from the town of Rockingham, the state, and the federal government, which have invested already in structural and environmental assessments, feasibility studies and plans, and partial implementation of these plans, including following the recommendations for:

-successfully applying to funding sources identified in the studies to pay for demolition, sealing and temporary stabilization, and contamination abatement;

-demolishing the portions of the facility that were contaminated and not structurally sound;

-sealing and temporarily stabilizing the portions of the facility that are structurally sound and feasible for adaptive re-use;

-and abating of contamination in the facility as part of the adaptive reuse plan.

In 2008, world-renowned architect Michael Singer Studios created reuse proposals for the TLR Mill Complex that include the whole Riverfront area; the Frank Adams Grist Mill, the Wyman-Flint Mill, and the Scenic Riverfront Park and Trail System.

In today's economic climate, adaptive reuse redevelopment requires multi-use proposals to be financially feasible. The greater Bellows Falls community has come out in numbers - both this year and two years ago - to participate in redevelopment forums and charrettes for the Bellows Falls Island Growth Plan by Mullin Associates and Berkshire Design Group, and the Chemco/Liberty Mill forum by interested residents, citizens, and Rockingham for Progress.

SVG and BFHS submitted a letter of intent last year, as requested by the town notice, to develop a redevelopment proposal based on these early studies, building the relationships with the identified partners and funding sources. The town rejected our LOI, so we did not spend time on, nor did we ask architects and engineers to spend time on, developing the proposal, funding sources, and partners.

There are certainly many reasons to move in either direction, and we expect to hear support and plans for demolition of the facilities on Monday evening as well as support for and new ideas for the adaptive reuse of these facilities.

Rockingham residents, please get informed on all the options. Then come to Town Meeting on the night of Monday, Feb. 29, and vote on this!

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