Walk of campus reveals houses frozen in time
PORTLAND — The town has issued a demolition permit for the Elmcrest property, clearing yet another hurdle for the eventual conversion of the 14-acre site into a mixed-use development.
The permit was authorized by Building Official Lincoln White following an inspection and recent review of the site by town officials, a trustee of the Portland Historical Society and representatives of the DeMarco Group. The Rochester, New York-based company will develop the commercial portion of the estimated $30 million-plus project.
The town received a check for the $7,500 fee for the permit. In all, the officials expect to receive $95,000 in various payments as the five-year project moves forward.
The town group included Land-use Administrator Ashley Majorowski and Economic Development Coordinator Mary D. Dickerson. The two have spent much of the past nearly two years intently involved in the review and approval process for the project. But until their visit, Majorowski had never seen the campus from the inside.
Historical Society trustee Claire Frisbie was on hand in the company of a member of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation to see whether there were architecturally and/or historically significant fittings in several of the older buildings on the property that should be saved.
The society arranged to photograph many of the buildings, Frisbie said in 2009. “They were in beautiful shape then. Now, however, what with vandalism and water damage, they have started going downhill,” she said.
The DeMarco team was also “marking trees to be retained once the demolition starts,” Dickerson said. The property is studded with any number of specimen trees.
White and Fire Marshal Raymond S. Sajdak conducted an inspection of several of the buildings on the property to “so we knew what we had to start with,” White said. “We just wanted to clarify what was over there to refresh our memories.”
In particular, Sajdak was concerned about the presence of hazardous material that would have to be dealt with during the demolition.
“We are ‘first preventers,’ ” White said.
In addition, White said he and Sajdak wanted to hold a more generalized discussion with Marco officials about other requirements during the ensuring construction phase.
Michael Laboski, DeMarco’s director of safety, and an assistant were present during the tour, arranged by property owner Fred Hassan. The assistant spent much of his time inspecting the interior of various building for the presence of materials commonly used in construction over the past two centuries — some of which are now considered hazardous.
Even as he was inspecting the building, the assistant often remarked on the quality — and beauty — of much of the 19th-century construction that could be found in some of the buildings. The interiors of several of the older structures contained both beauty and extreme wear.
Any number of handmade architectural details were marred by graffiti.
In some places, ceilings had collapsed, loosing hillocks of wet rock-wool insulation that piled up on a floor, while at the same time exposing hand-cut wooden joints.
Some buildings had been visited by raccoons. In one three-story building, the animals left large deposits of scat on a second-floor landing.
In some of the mid- to late-20th-century buildings, Laboski pointed to a series of ragged holes punched into sheetrock walls — the mark, he said, of vandals looking for copper pipes.
Laboksi said he will have dual responsibilities: in addition to identifying hazardous materials that have to be abated, he is also in charge of hiring crews to work the project. Overall, the project will be overseen by Phil Resmondo, who will serve as DeMarco’s project superintendent.
As just one indication of his commitment to the project, Resmondo and his wife are moving to area for the next five years to see the project to completion. Coincidentally Resmondo’s wife recently retired as a professor of architectural history after a 33-year stint at the University of Kentucky.
She is excited about being involved in the project, and has made some informed comments about details in some of the buildings.
“This place has an interesting history,” she said of the campus, adding, “The ghost hunters love this place.”
Returning to the issue of the demo permit, Resmondo said, while it’s welcome, “It just starts another process.
“There are so many moving parts,” he said.
Resmondo said he did not expect to begin demolition until around Sept. 1.
The developer of the former Elmcrest Hospital land on in Portland has obtained a demolition permit.
Representatives of the Portland Historical Society and Connecticut Trust for Historic Places took part in the recent tour to determine if there were architectural and/or historic elements that should be preserved.