Walk of cam­pus re­veals houses frozen in time

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - Front Page - By Jeff Mill

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.

Jeff Mill / Hearst Con­necti­cut Media

The de­vel­oper of the former Elmcrest Hos­pi­tal land on in Port­land has ob­tained a de­mo­li­tion per­mit.

Jeff Mill / Hearst Con­necti­cut Media

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.

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