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Bristol plans to demo ill-fated Mica Building


October 27, 2010
BRISTOL— The process is slow but steady as Bristol town officials make progress with plans to remove the dilapidated structure at 8 Central Square, better known as the "Mica Building," to make way for a riverfront park and additional parking for the downtown business community.

Bristol acquired the troubled property in May as part of tax foreclosure proceedings against former owner John Suldenski, and officials have been working to determine what to do with the building ever since.

After a partial roof collapse in the difficult winter of 2009, the building was temporarily condemned and neighboring residents and businesses forced to evacuate for months until the building could be shored up and made safe.

Unfortunately, the interior damage to the former Mica processing factory building, vacant for decades, has been so extensive due to exposure to the elements that renovation and re-use are no longer viable options. The building will have to come down.

This is expected to be a lengthy, difficult and expensive process due to the presence of a number of hazardous materials, including lead paint and asbestos, in the building and its precarious location, perched on the edge of the Newfound River, only inches away from adjacent buildings.

The town of Bristol estimates that the cost of cleaning up the site will be about $200,000. They have applied for assistance for the project through the Brownsfields Cleanup Grant program and expect to receive support from the state.

If funding is approved for the project, work could proceed at the site, with appropriate protections for the public health, next spring.

A Brownsfields grant application was sent in Oct. 15, after a required public hearing (Oct. 14) and comment period (Oct. 1 –14). Town Administrator Michael Capone reported that few Bristol residents took advantage of the opportunity to read the draft proposal during the public comment period and there were only a few comments, generally positive, at the public hearing.

"This is a very positive thing," said Bristol resident Barbara Greenwood. "It falls right in with the Central Square revitalization initiative, and if we follow through with a library renovation plan, the whole thing will come together to enhance the downtown."

Bristol has also received Transportation Enhancement funding from the state Department of Transportation to undertake a re-configuration of neighboring Central Square, and has secured a Safe Routes to School grant for improving pedestrian access nearby, en route to Bristol Middle School. Together, these improvements are consistent with a steady progress on realizing major portions of the town's Master Plan for the area and making headway toward some of the objectives identified in the recent Plan NH downtown design charette, sponsored by the Bristol Planning Board.

Capone said that Bristol has a "reasonably good shot" at getting funding for the project. He said that the intention is in keeping with the primary objectives of the Brownsfield program, especially since there is a plan for the building to be "immediately repurposed" as a waterfront park and additional parking in support of the long-standing objectives of Bristol's Master Plan.

Local residents and business owners have expressed hope that removing the blighted property from the area will help to encourage further economic development downtown.

In other matters, the Bristol Select Board is also pushing ahead with efforts to pursue any and all funding opportunities in support of the critically important "sewer-to-the-lake" project.

The sewer extension project, designed to protect the water quality of Newfound Lake and town water supplies, has been stymied in Washington, where U.S. Rural Development and other funding will have to be secured for the project to move forward.

As part of the efforts to move ahead on the plan, the select board has approved a Request for Proposal to engage a lobbying consulting firm in the interest of making progress in securing funding for the work. The RFP has gone out, with responses expected by Nov. 17, for work to begin in Washington, D.C. some time in December.

At a recent meeting, board members expressed their frustration that this step appears to be necessary, but conceded that "somebody working for us in Washington" was an absolute necessity if the essential project funds were going to be obtained.

Town officials have indicated that they believe at least 75 percent of the project will have to be secured from state or federal sources in order for Bristol to be able to afford to move forward with sewer-to-the-lake.

The town is also moving forward with the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget committee is meeting regularly, and will be hearing from department heads in the next few weeks.

The select board is scheduled to meet with the budget committee when that process has been completed in December to jointly discuss the budget for the coming year in conjunction with the anticipated Capital Improvement Plan items under consideration.

It is expected to be a lengthy and difficult budget process this year.

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