By M. Stewart
APDC Plans to Take Action on Old Lunenburg Primary School
LUNENBURG – The old Lunenburg Primary School, a 93-year-old building situated on School Street in the town center and historical village district, ceased operation as a school in 2005, and has been deteriorating ever since.
The now defaced and decayed historic building is in a state of limbo, as to what the future holds. The Lunenburg Architectural Preservation District Commission (APDC), the governing group that oversees historic architecture in the village center district, met Tuesday at the Ritter Building to discuss how to enforce its mission, and get the Town of Lunenburg to stop the deterioration of the Town-owned building.
APDC Vice-Chair Jim La Veck reported back that at the Board of Selectman meetings, discussions have centered on tearing down the building and putting a community park in its place, and one resident has brought a conceptual design for the park. La Veck noted that there were not any discussions about re-use of the building.
“When you mention the building to the Selectmen, they all know it’s a problem,” La Veck said. “They all know they need to be doing something to it, but they don’t seem to take any action.”
The APDC is the oversight body for preserving buildings in the town center, and has jurisdiction over upkeep of historic buildings. In the bylaws, demolition by neglect, occurs when one or more factors could lead to a snowball effect, resulting in the complete deterioration of the property. No matter the stage, if a property is deemed to be in a state of demolition by neglect, the Town has the power to take action against the property owner, including a cease and desist order, enforcement, and action through Town Council.
“I’m going to discuss (with the Town Attorney) what our breach of authority is in terms of enforcing somebody to take the measures necessary to prevent further decay,” La Veck said. “Can we force the Town to hire somebody to do that. I don’t believe that we as a commission can hire someone, we don’t have a budget, and I don’t think we have the authority to allow people onto the property. Can we force the Town to do something? That is what the charge is now, understanding that the Town did not allocate any funds in maintaining it, which one could make the case is demolition by neglect.”
Collectively the APDC agreed to reach out to the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager to schedule their appearance at an upcoming meeting.
“It’s probably not a bad idea to get on their schedule and meet with them again,” APDC member Brian Corcoran said. “We’re not going away. This isn’t going away. We’ve met with you before, and what do we do?”
La Veck said that the last three or four Town Meetings have had warrants on the school and the Brooks House, another deteriorating town-owned property, and none of the measures passed. But he feels that the residents of the town are split 50/50 on preserving the building.
APDC Clerk Cullen Dwyer reported back on dialog to make the Brooks House a single-family home. Land Use Director Adam Burney told him there were a number of impediments, including that residential use would be a new use for the property, and a variance might be required. There would be a new lot, a curb cut, and easement issues. A demolition which could cost $40,000-$50,000, $30,000 to relocate, and he did not have an estimate for renovation.
“Burney said the house was cramped,” Dwyer said. “It was from the 1790s, kind of looked like, and that there were political and practical obstacles.”
The commission decided to seek input from the Planning Board prior to its next meeting, to see if a single-family residence would even be a possibility for the property.
In other APDC news, the commission decided on a font for upcoming road signs that will be placed throughout the preservation district. The 18-inch-tall 24-inch-wide signs will say ‘welcome” in a chancery font followed by ‘Lunenburg Architectural Preservation District’ in block letters. Signs will be placed on Leominster Road, Lancaster Ave., one on each end of Massachusetts Ave., Oak Ave., Highland Street, and Chestnut Street.
The last item of the meeting determined that Chair Richard McGrath would reach out to the Town Manager to discuss future capital planning for the Ritter Memorial Building and existing Town Hall, if the offices in both were ever to merge into T.C. Passios School. The goal would be to avoid a situation similar to the aforementioned two vacant town properties, with Town Hall and the Ritter Building, if they were to become vacant.