Augusta declares historic Kennebec Arsenal property unsafe

The Kennebec Arsenal property in Augusta, pictured June 24. File Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — City Council has declared the historic but neglected Kennebec Arsenal property unsafe and has given the property owner at least 90 days to address concerns.

Concerns include mold infestation, peeling lead paint, boarded up doors and windows, collapsed ceilings, electrical connections that could pose a fire hazard, and non-working plumbing.

If the owner fails to act within the required time, which could be extended from 90 days to 150 days with permission from the city’s codes office, Augusta could initiate legal proceedings which could involve the city having the work done. , invoice the owner for the work and, if the owner does not pay the invoice, the taking of the property.

Councilors voted 7-1 Thursday to declare the property overlooking the Kennebec River, one of the city’s most prominent private properties, unsafe under state law. The property is also listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The council, however, amended the proposed order to remove references to buildings on the site being unstable or at risk of collapse, saying there was no evidence of this in testimony that took place during two long city ​​council meetings (July 28 and August 28, 2019). 4), much of which is taken over by Tom Niemann, the principal owner of the company owning the property, and witnesses called by his attorney, who defends Niemann’s custody of the property.

Councilors also added an allegation, which was not part of the original allegations, that the property’s electrical connections could pose a fire hazard.

“It is dangerous because there is a risk of fire, because of the lack of water and accessibility for the fire department in case there is a fire and a lack of concern for the workers who go out there and do this work,” to-Grand Councilor Abigail St. Valle said.

Stephen Langsdorf, the city attorney, said there is no doubt there has been improper maintenance, disrepair or abandonment of the Arsenal buildings, terms used in the Hazardous Buildings Act of condition, and that the buildings are in no way suitable for use or occupancy in their present condition.

Langsdorf said Niemann’s estimates of what it would cost to restore the property are “extremely low to do this type of work”, and little to no work was going on there until a few months ago. , when the city initiated the dangerous construction procedure.

Eric Wycoff, Niemann’s attorney, said the buildings are not unsafe or unfit for use or occupancy and pose no danger, but if the city considers them as such, he requested that the owner have up to 36 months to address concerns and make renovations.

This aerial photograph from July 2010 shows the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta. File Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It would be better for everyone,” Wycoff said. “The buildings would be refurbished. The buildings will be preserved. They will become productive. And any problems that may exist will be solved.

At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle, the only one to vote against declaring the buildings unsafe, said, “For me, these buildings do not constitute unsafe buildings. My main concern was the people injured on the site and the danger the buildings could present. I am encouraged by Mr. Niemann to make efforts to start working on some of these properties, and I hope he will continue.

Bob St. Onge, owner of Jarr Management Inc. and general contractor since 1975 who works with Niemann on the Arsenal project, said the renovations needed on most Arsenal buildings are uncomplicated, requiring what he described as mostly cosmetic work – repainting walls, re-plastering and re-varnishing floors.

He also said the buildings’ heating, electrical and plumbing systems needed to be overhauled and restored to working order.

St. Onge, who has replaced the roofs of many buildings in the complex in the past, said part of the electrical system is overloaded and will need work, but is safe. He also said the property as a whole is not a fire hazard as the buildings are mostly granite and are secure.

He said Niemann’s latest plan for the property, which includes its development for 18 residences, spanned three years and was recently submitted to city code officials.

Although Niemann and those working with him have not applied for a permit for the entire project, they have a permit to repair the porch of the Burleigh building and have filed two applications with the code office to carry out work on the sentry box to the property and demolishing an addition to the Commander’s Quarters, which were not part of the original building.

Niemann said two years to redevelop the property, other than the Old Max building, at an estimated cost of $5.3 million are reasonable estimates. City officials have previously said they believe it will cost about $30 million to redevelop the property.

Patrick Booth, an architect working on the project, said Niemann and others were seeking a federal historic preservation tax credit to restore the smallest five of the property’s eight buildings.

After code enforcement officer Rob Overton’s visits to the property, the city cited numerous issues that make primarily granite block buildings, as defined by state law, unsafe.

Issues include the exteriors of all poorly maintained and dilapidated buildings, including peeling lead-based paint on all buildings; windows and doors broken or barricaded; missing and deteriorated mortar on several buildings, creating a risk of loose or falling debris; and more claims of dilapidation.

Overton said the interiors of all buildings were in very poor condition, with peeling paint and loose plaster. Some have collapsed ceilings, heavy mold infestation, and electrical systems that could pose fire hazards, and all have inoperable or missing plumbing systems.

The National Historic Landmark collection of granite buildings, built by the federal government between 1828 and 1838, is considered by some curators to be one of the best and oldest examples of 19th-century munitions depots in the country.

Niemann purchased the property from the state in 2007, with a down payment of $280,000 and covenants requiring him to preserve, maintain and repair the property to preserve its value as a historic site, with plans to develop it further. a mixed-use site, including shops, offices, a boutique hotel and residences. None of these developments occurred.

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