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Tilton to demolish old building, begin preparations for park

By the end of next week, the town of Tilton will have a full plan in place to demolish the dilapidated former Ernie’s Auto Sales building, which sullies East Main Street with its boarded up windows, sunken walls and collapsed roof.

“As people enter the town of Tilton, this is one of the eyesores they see,” said Chuck Mitchell, chairman of the Tilton Conservation Commission. “We think of this property as part of the gateway into the town.”

Tilton received a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in August to remove the building and hazardous soil. Removing the building is the first step of a three-part process, which includes decontaminating the soil and redeveloping the site into a park with a bridge connecting Tilton and Northfield as an extension of the Winnipesaukee River Trail. The town hopes to award a contract by Dec. 21 and would like to see the building removed before the year’s end.

The Ernie’s Auto Sales building, located across from the Tilton police station, has been abandoned for more than 10 years. It has asbestos in the roof and tiles and lead paint on the walls, which means demolishing the building requires a certain level of care as stipulated in the EPA grant. The contractors applying for the project must be certified in asbestos removal and will have to follow requirements drawn up by Credere Associates LLC, a Maine-based environmental engineering company hired by the town.

The town just got approval from the EPA and state Department of Environmental Services within the past month to remove the building, and once the contract is awarded, the two departments must also evaluate the plans for demolition and disposal of hazardous materials.

“It’s just incredible the amount of work everybody’s been pumping out,” said Town Administrator Joyce Fulweiler.

The town purchased the Ernie’s property in January 2011 with funds from the Conservation Commission. It also is working to acquire the neighboring land, though that has involved a legal battle. In 2009, the town paid upwards of $70,000 to purchase the land and later discovered the man they purchased it from was not the legal owner, said Pat Consentino, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. The state owns the land, and the town is now working with it to purchase the land.

The demolition of the building and cleanup of the site is covered by the federal grant, and the Winnipesaukee River Trail Association has contributed an additional $20,000 in-kind donation.

Fulweiler hopes the building can be removed by the end of the year, as it is already falling in on itself and winter weather could cause it to completely collapse. Once the building is down, soil remediation and further testing will begin. Original tests found arsenic and lead in the soil at levels that exceed state standards. That soil will be excavated and hauled off-site, said Rip Patten, vice president of Credere and the project’s engineer. Traces of asphalt, coal and ash material have also been found.

The redevelopment of the land into a park is tied to the town of Northfield because the pedestrian bridge will have a base in each town. The bridge would be known as the “Missing Link Bridge” because it will connect portions of the river trail, which runs through Franklin, Northfield and Tilton. Right now, cyclists and pedestrians have to leave the trail and travel along Routes 3 and 11 in Tilton before picking it back up.

In addition to connecting the trail, the land will be turned into a greenspace, with benches and picnic tables, walkways, a parking lot and a potential kayak ramp on the bank of the river, Consentino said. Given the hard economic times, it will be nice for community members to have a place to hang out for free, she said.

“It will just be a huge community resource for us,” she said.

But before any of the renovations can begin, the first step is to remove the worn down building that all officials in Tilton use the same word to describe.

“When we were notified we got the grant, we all screamed,” Consentino said. “Because that building is obviously an eyesore.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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