2016-12-15 / Front Page

Commission to revisit clock tower

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The city’s historic preservation commission is seeking to update its information on the status of the city hall clock tower and the potential cost of renovating it. The commission has planned to meet with Director of Facilities Phil Radding at its Dec. 14 meeting, which is after the Courier’s deadline.

In 2014 the city hall clock tower was included on Maine Preservation’s “Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Places” list. Maine Preservation is a nonprofit organization that pursues various programs with the purpose of supporting historic preservation in Maine; it publishes an annual magazine and also operates a website that includes the “most endangered” list. The same 2014 list also included the Lincoln Mill clock tower, a separate clock tower that now sits at the edge of a parking lot on the Pepperrell Mill Campus.

A 3-D printed clock tower atop Heart of Biddeford’s tree at the Saco Museum Festival of Trees. (Anthony Aloisio photo) A 3-D printed clock tower atop Heart of Biddeford’s tree at the Saco Museum Festival of Trees. (Anthony Aloisio photo) According to Maine Preservation’s website, the city hall clock tower is under threat because the only recent repairs it had received in 2014 were “minimal, short-term repairs.”

“The importance of this structure needs to be demonstrated to the city’s citizens in order to pass a bond,” the site reads. “Both prior bonds were posed in the midst of the recession. Also, matching grant money might be raised in order to offset the cost being paid by taxpayers.”

A 2007 bond referendum asked for authorization to borrow $1.5 million “for the purpose of paying costs of rehabilitating and reconstructing the Clock/ Bell Tower at City Hall.” That vote failed with 34 percent in favor, according to numbers provided by City Clerk Carmen Morris. The vote itself followed an assessment by Lachman Architects & Planners, a Portland-based architecture firm.

A postcard showing city hall and the clock tower cerca 1911. (Photo courtesy of McArthur Public Library) A postcard showing city hall and the clock tower cerca 1911. (Photo courtesy of McArthur Public Library) Another bond failed in 2012 that would have borrowed $2.9 million for improvements to various facilities including city hall. A third bond failed in 2015, after Maine Preservation published its “most endangered list,” which would have borrowed about $2.3 million for the purpose of paying costs “for the repair and renovation of the City Hall clock tower, repointing of brick work, installation of fire sprinklers for the purpose of life safety, installation of new windows and other miscellaneous repairs.”

“It was in such a bad state, and so I asked the other members of the commission about, at the very least, coming out with a statement of support,” said Catherine Glynn, who is a member of the historic preservation commission.

“We want to know the history of past maintenance efforts,” Glynn continued, “whether there’s a plan right now, what the dollar amount is, where we are as far as finding grant money.”

Radding said that he is pursuing another assessment of the clock tower.

“We really need to take a look at it because of the cost of construction today,” Radding said, “and really take a look and come up with a solid budgetary number.”

“The architect will list all the things that need to be done, see if there’s anything that has failed since we’ve done work,” Radding said. “We had some stabilization work back in 2009 to keep the water from coming in, but those were temporary fixes.”

“It means redoing the dome,” Radding continued, “a new weathervane, new gutters, stripping all the wood off of the wood part of the thing, rebuilding that, renovating the clock – the clock itself is a major project.”

According to Radding, the clock in the tower hasn’t functioned for four years.

“I’m not sure if people realize how significant the clock tower is,” Glynn said. “It’s kind of a symbol of the city.”

“The clock tower really is our brand,” Radding said. “It’s on our seal, it’s on our website, it’s on all our literature.”

Radding added that city hall isn’t just valuable as a symbol; it’s also famous for its architect.

“This is a John Calvin Stevens building,” Radding said. “It’s one of the larger he’d ever done, he did more houses. He’s a renowned architect, and this actually is a gorgeous building.”

John Calvin Stevens was a prolific architect in Maine at the beginning of the 20th century. He designed many houses in Maine, and other buildings, including the building that is the current location of the Saco Museum.

Radding said he is concerned that the clock tower may be doomed. According to Maine Preservation’s 2015 “most endangered” list, since they started the list in 1996, 53 places were saved, 26 were “in motion,” 16 were threatened, and 18 were demolished.

“City hall needs work,” Radding said. “People don’t want to spend tax money to do it.”

“Years ago I had some guy say ‘well, tower’s in tough shape, take it down,’” Radding added.

But Radding is also hopeful that the city is changing for the better and that the clock tower will be part of that.

“Now we’re in the position where,” Radding said, “we’re renovating downtown, there’s a lot of goings-on in the mill, we’re looking at a parking garage, we’ve got a hotel coming in across the street.

“Now you’ve got all this development going in the downtown, and the city council kind of realizes that we need to do something to update our building because, if you want to be a progressive city, if you want development in the downtown, if you want things to happen, we need to address city hall.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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