NORWAY – The owner of the Opera House has asked that the town’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction be denied because the town falsified its claims that the building is falling down and that he in fact saved it, court papers state.

“When the town and the engineer felt the building was doomed to failure, it was the defendant who stepped forward and saved the building that all thought was lost. The town has lost its gratitude” according to Barry Mazzaglia, president of Bitim Enterprises in Londonderry, N.H., and owner of the 1894 Opera House on Main Street.

The three-story brick building, which is the centerpiece of the downtown National Historic District, was damaged in September 2007 when water pooling on the sagging roof caused a partial collapse of the roof. That led to rotted roof trusses and a water pipe on the top floor to collapse, sending water down through the floors and flooding two street-level businesses.

The building has been vacant since then, except for Woodsman’s Sporting Goods store, which is in the process of moving across the street.

In his answer and counterclaim to a complaint filed by the town in Oxford Superior Court last month, Mazzaglia claims the town has been pressured by preservation committees to “harass” him and by a selectman whose purchase offer for what Mazzaglia said was “significantly less than its value,” was rejected.

Selectman Chairman Bill Damon had offered $250,000 to buy the property, which Mazzaglia brought for $225,000 in 2003.

“This action is more response to these positions than it is for public safety,” Mazzaglia said in the court papers.

The town filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Mazzaglia to force him to immediately stabilize the building after the town’s consulting engineer, Alfred Hodson, said he is certain the danger to the public and neighboring property is “very significant.”

Hodson, of Resurgence Engineering and Preservation of Portland, said in his affidavit that “it is not possible to predict whether the entire roof will fall in or, if it does fall in, whether it will further damage the south wall or cause the north wall to fall onto the sidewalk and into Main Street in Norway.”

In the complaint, the town asked the court to order Mazzaglia to keep the roof free of more than 1 foot of snow, immediately provide adequate bracing to the upper portion of the south wall and take adequate steps to stabilize the structure and the roof so that loads are transferred to the building foundation. It also asks that the owner immediately stabilize the roof with temporary shoring, hire an engineer and construction company to implement the engineers shoring system and secure the property.

Mazzaglia said he has maintained the building and stabilized it, as initially agreed upon by the town and himself, as funding and weather permitted.

“The defendant has taken necessary steps to care for this building and the community. The public has not been at risk nor is at risk at this time,” Mazzaglia wrote.

Hodson said in court papers that in observations he made in December 2008 he noticed new cracks and bricks that had fallen, masonry that had pulled away and that the upper wall of the southwest corner appears to be moving.

The town claims the building could further collapse with a 7-foot section of the back wall falling southward and potentially a portion of the north wall falling into Main Street.

Mazzaglia has denied those assertions, saying the town has shown no evidence by means of before and after pictures or analysis that the building is deteriorating, and that the town has allowed the public to rip down barriers and enter the building without his knowledge and steal contents.

“This is the defendant’s building not the town’s,” Mazzaglia wrote. “They owned the building at one time and contributed (to) its deterioration due to a lack of interest in maintaining it. The defendant brought life into the building through its investments after years of vacancy.”

The Opera House was built 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 the Opera House after it was placed on the state’s Most Endangered Historic Properties list by Maine Preservation of Portland.

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