NORWAY — The town will retain ownership of the historic Norway Opera House clock tower, from the roofline to the weather vane.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Thursday that the tower, with its historic E. Howard clock and the bell beneath that rings on the hour, should remain in the hands of the town. Members agreed to the idea of transferring ownership of the rest of the massive three-story building on Main Street, if a permanent easement is given to the town to access the tower.

The decision was based on a recommendation by Town Manager David Holt. The vote allows the board to move forward with transferring ownership of the 1894 building and the adjoining former Woodman’s sporting goods store to the nonprofit Norway Opera House Corp.

“We need answers to move ahead,” Holt told the board when asking for its endorsement of his recommendation.

The town is working with the Norway Opera House Corp. to use historic tax credits in partnership with Norway Savings Bank to renovate the first floor storefronts. A $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future Grant was received last fall for that purpose. The job is expected to go out to bid in the spring and include refurbishing the basement area, wiring and plumbing, and bringing the basement and ground floor up to code.

Prior to taking the building by eminent domain last year, the town had a right of way agreement with the previous owner to access the clock tower. Holt said if the previous owner had sold the Opera House, the clock tower could have been sold with it.

The E. Howard Clock Co. was established in 1842 in Massachusetts. Today its clocks can be found throughout the country. They were largely constructed on town halls, courthouses, churches and schools. Jim Bryant of Wayne, the keeper of the old timepiece for Norway, said Friday that he was pleased with the town’s decision.

Selectman Russ Newcomb said he was concerned about making sure the building is maintained, particularly if the Opera House Corp. sells the building in the future.

“If you don’t maintain the first floor it will still fall down,” he said.

Selectman Irene Millett said she wants to ensure that an easement through the building is “always there” for the town to access the clock tower.

The recommendation was made after engineer Al Hodson of Resurgence Engineering and Preservation in Portland inspected the town Jan. 15 from a 100-foot-tall ladder truck loaned by the Oxford Fire Department. He wanted to be sure the tower was in sufficiently good condition to warrant retaining ownership after two large shingles fell off the roof.

During his hour-long assessment he looked at the shingling system, weather vane and upper masonry.

“The missing shingles I saw on the roof prompted me to go up. I also wanted to assess the upper masonry on the tower, in case funds become available to do repairs in the next few years,” Hodson said. Although he was unable to reattach the shingles safely, he said the review was worthwhile.

“The trip up was beneficial, and actually revealed that the weather vane is more secure than I originally thought, and that the tower masonry itself is in good condition on the previously inaccessible front and right elevations,” he said.

In 2010, voters authorized selectmen to take the Opera House property by eminent domain after it was declared a safety hazard. A section of the sagging roof collapsed in September 2007, resulting in water damage through every floor. The town has stabilized the back wall.

The two upper floors were once used for community plays, dances, graduations and other cultural events but have been vacant for decades. The first floor has been vacant since 2007.

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