NORWAY — A Maine Preservation field advisor said that clogged roof drains may have been responsible for the September 2007 partial roof collapse of the historic downtown Opera House, compromising the back wall.

Christopher Closs, western and southern field service representative for Maine Preservation, said the drains were placed on the back (south-facing) wall of the Opera House’s slanted roof to prevent water from cascading down on Main Street pedestrians when it was built in 1894.

Following a tour of the brick building with its imposing clock tower that anchors the downtown National Historic District on Tuesday, Closs said the 6-inch, cast-iron roof drains were clogged and probably caused the water to back up and pool on the rooftop, which eventually led to its partial collapse.

“They were not maintained. They were plugged,” said Closs, who added that part of his work on historic buildings is forensic.

Andrea Burns, president of Norway Downtown, said she was also told by a Norway resident who used to work in the building that the drains were clogged. The man could not be reached for comment.

The failure of the back wall and roof in September 2007 led to the town’s efforts to acquire the building by eminent domain this year using a $200,000 donation from Bill and Beatrice Damon. Efforts to work with the previous owner, Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises in Londonderry, N.H., to stabilize the building failed. The building was named in 2003 to Maine Preservation’s list of most endangered historic properties.

Two engineering studies have deemed the building unsafe for the public and neighboring buildings.

The Maine Preservation official was in town Tuesday to organize a local and regional effort to rejuvenate the Opera House. Closs said the building does pose design and economic challenges but can be an economic engine to drive the revitalization of downtown Norway.

The town is now waiting to see how much money a Superior Court judge will say the town must pay the previous owner. Stabilization work is expected to begin soon. A Community Development Block Grant and other private and public funds are being used to pay for the stabilization of the building. Once completed, the Opera House will be turned over to a non-profit group that will decide its future use.

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