NORWAY – Selectmen agreed Thursday to get an updated engineering assessment and appraisal of the damaged three-story Opera House on Main Street.

“I think it presents a danger to the people around it, and I think it presents a danger to the buildings around it. To do nothing will eventually lead to something very bad happening,” Town Manager David Holt said after making the recommendations to selectmen at their meeting.

Holt said he will call the owner of the building, Barry Mazzaglia of Londonderry, N.H., and ask permission to allow engineer Al Hodson, who conducted the initial engineering review a year ago, and Patricia Amidon, a certified general appraiser of Amidon Appraisal Co. in Portland, who has experience in eminent domain cases, to enter the building.

If Mazzaglia refuses to admit them, something that Holt does not foresee, the board will consider other options, including taking the building by eminent domain or condemning it.

“Because of the condition of the building it is critical that we continue investigating with or without Barry’s cooperation,” Holt said.

The 1894 brick edifice topped by a large clock tower was severely damaged on Sept. 21, 2007, when the sagging roof partially collapsed, causing water to pour down through the ceilings and walls to the ground floor. Two first-floor businesses were forced to relocate. The upper floors had been vacant for decades.

Since the roof collapse the building has been unoccupied and advertised for sale at $600,000.

Holt said it is not an “unreasonable suspicion” to believe that the building has deteriorated further in the past year.

“It’s been 13 months since he worked initially to stabilize the building. He hasn’t done much since last fall,” Holt said of Mazzaglia.

Selectman Bruce Cook, who said he came to the meeting prepared to make a motion to condemn the building, said in his opinion, “It’s a very dangerous building and people and safety have to come first.”

The board’s action will allow Hodson to update his report of a year ago, and once selectmen receive it they will request a meeting with Mazzaglia. At that meeting, Holt said the owner will be asked for his plan to address any dangers that exist in the building and to nearby properties and what insurance is in place for liability and cleanup of any collapse that might occur.

Last fall, fire Chief Michael Mann said Mazzaglia had no insurance on it.

Holt said that at a minimum, the owner’s plan must include repair of the back wall, shoveling the roof this winter and other issues identified in the engineer’s initial report as needing immediate attention to prevent further damage.

Holt said the town should be prepared to act if the situation warrants, after meeting Mazzaglia. Those actions might include condemning the building for the safety of the public.

“Taking (the building by eminent domain) may be considered if it seems that this is the only way to protect the historic center of town from being lost or the town subjected to huge cleanup costs in the event that the Opera House collapses,” Holt said in his report to the board. “The board may need to consider a combination of both condemnation and taking.”

The town will pay the engineer and appraisal services with the $15,533 that remains from the original $25,000 selectmen approved for engineering studies of the Opera House in the fall of 2007. It is expected the work would cost less than $9,467 spent last year for the initial study.

The appraisal will be done in two phases, the first being a “ballpark figure,” which will cost the town about $1,500. The second phase, if needed, would set the value the town would use for eminent domain. That action will cost about $2,500.

“Do it. Get closure and move to the next step,” Cook said.

About 15 people who came to the meeting to listen to the board’s discussion applauded when the board approved Holt’s recommendations.

“This is good, reasonable action,” said Andrea Burns, president of the Downtown Norway Association.

The building was constructed by the Norway Building Association, then owned by the town from 1920 to the mid-1970s, and then by a succession of private owners for the past 30 years or so.

The ballroom and balcony on the upper floors played host to the community life of Norway, including concerts, balls, traveling minstrel shows, theater performances, National Guard musters, town meetings and high school graduation ceremonies. The top stories have been unused since a movie theater closed in the 1970s, and the five ground-floor storefronts have had occupants off and on over the years.

Mazzaglia bought it for $225,000 in 2003 after it was placed on the state’s Most Endangered Historic Properties list by Maine Preservation of Portland.

The Opera House is the anchor of the town’s National Historic District.


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