ELLSWORTH — The former Ticonic 4 Engine House, also known as the community building at Ellsworth Falls, may be torn down in the coming months.
This is according to city Code Enforcement Officer Dwight Tilton and emails sent by Rick Harnum, senior vice president of Webber Group, which owns the property.
Webber has not yet applied for permits to demolish the building, said Tilton, but added that he was aware of plans to do so.
Harnum confirmed as much in an email to abutter Judy Blood in February, writing: “We are preparing to demo the building … We checked with [Economic Development Director] Micki Sumpter and the city does not view the building as historically significant.”
Webber bought the property from the city in 2005 for $5,000. The 3,600-square-foot building, constructed around 1888, has served at various times as a fire station housing steam-powered fire engines, a polling place, a community building and a thrift shop.
Although it is not on the historic registry, city officials acknowledged in their 2005 request for proposals that it “is considered to have significant local historic interest by the Ellsworth Historic Preservation Commission.”
Sumpter said she had been contacted by Harnum but that the two had not had any “real discussion” about the building.
The city owned the property for 117 years before officials decided upkeep had become too expensive and listed it for sale along with another package of properties, including the former Court House and the Old Registry Building.
In soliciting for buyers in 2005, officials wrote that they were committed to selling the properties “to the most responsible proposal, not necessarily to the highest bidder.” Submissions were to be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission and ranked by the city manager and city councilors.
In his company’s winning bid, Webber Oil Co. Vice President Raymond J. Cota Jr. wrote that the company did not plan to use the space “for any grand development scheme, but rather to assist an organization and control the future of this parcel.”
“It will allow a special organization to continue their good deeds,” Cota said, referring to the thrift shop operated by the Union Congregational Church.
Webber owned property to the left and rear of the building as well as across the street, said Cota, adding that the company could provide extra parking or “additional land in the event the building needs to be moved.”
It also had a “financial interest” in the space, he said, having “donated” $16,000 and a portion of land to move the building in 1990 when it was found to be on common boundary owned by Webber and the city.
The property had been in poor shape for years before it was put up for sale. A 2004 inspection noted that “the building has been allowed to degrade to the point of being a hazard. There are rotted window sills, rotted stairs, mold from roof leaks and overall poor building condition.”
Webber Oil, said Cota at the time, was “ready to fund the requirements” outlined in the 2004 inspection, including re-siding and other safety improvements. “The financial strength of the Webber Oil Co. is well known,” he wrote.
But some neighbors are concerned that Webber has not kept up its end of the bargain, insisting that little money has been put into maintaining the property.
“I kick myself now because I think that I could have tended it better, even with a lower budget,” said Blood, who owns a house that abuts the property. Blood said she and her husband considered buying the property when the city put out the request. They drafted a proposal but ultimately decided not to submit it.
Terri Weed Cormier, a member of the Ellsworth Historical Society, in a letter to the editor in this week’s Ellsworth American, urges the citizens of Ellsworth to support preservation of the old structure.
Webber declined to comment on any plans for the property in March, and did not respond this week to emails and calls seeking comment.