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Warner selectmen, builder plan to assess feasibility of renovating Odd Fellows building

Bob Irving has always had an interest in old buildings. The owner of RH Irving Homebuilders, he got his start in the business in 1972 remodeling old barns and colonial homes. Now the Salisbury resident has his eyes set on what would be his biggest restoration project yet – rehabilitating Warner’s Odd Fellows building.

“It is an excellent example of period architecture,” Irving said. “I love the space, the ceilings are all 10 to 11 feet high, the windows 6 feet high, you get gorgeous views . . . you have a good feeling being in that building.”

At a meeting last night, the Warner Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to enter into a one-year option agreement with the builder. During that timeframe, Irving will complete a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the feasibility of restoring the building.

Jim McLaughlin, who leads Warner’s Odd Fellows Building Committee, praised Irving’s skill set and interest in historic preservation. Irving “sees a use for this building and has a passion to redevelop it in a way that would benefit the town,” McLaughlin said. No one on the committee had reservations about signing the option agreement, he said.

Through the 12-month option agreement, the town will still own the building and officials will work on resolving some of the property’s constraints, which include a lack of parking and the presence of hazardous contaminants.

If at the end of the agreement Irving decides that restoring the Odd Fellows building is a good investment, he and the town will work out a price for the property.

Irving hopes to convert the 9,000-square-foot structure into residential apartments or condominiums. “I think it would be a good location for retirees who might live in Warner, want to stay in town and want something easy to take care of,” he said.

According to his plans, the building, located on Church Street, could be divided up into six two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot apartments. To update the structure that was originally built in 1892, Irving would add an elevator, install new heating and air conditioning units, pour a new foundation and use “green” construction techniques to make the building as energy efficient as possible.

Structurally, the building is solid and intact. But Irving would likely have to gut and rebuild the entire inside, which over the decades has housed a newspaper office, a bakery, a circuit board manufacturing firm, a meeting hall for the Masons and classrooms for the high school.

“I think it is doable,” he said. “The big question, and I really don’t have an answer, is whether it is doable for a good price.”

Overall, Irving wants to maintain the original look and design of the building. “It’s going to look like it looked in 1890,” he said. “My goal really is to save the building. Nobody else has been able to do it. The next step would be to tear it down, and I think that would be a shame.”

Warner took ownership of the Odd Fellows building in 2000. Since then, the town has been looking for a private developer to oversee its restoration. But so far, each attempt has fallen flat.

After several years of negotiations, one developer decided the cost to renovate the building was too high for the return. Another, who wanted to move the building to his property, decided it would be too expensive.

“The problem so far has been that the people that have looked into it have decided the cost to renovate the building is just far too high to make it practical,” Irving said.

Cost isn’t the only constraint. The property comes with almost no on-site parking because the building takes up almost the entire plot of land it sits on.

The old building also contains hazardous materials, including lead, asbestos and PCBs.

Those issues will almost certainly factor into Irving’s calculations during the one-year option agreement. For that, the first step is to estimate the cost of the project, he said. The second is to look for investors. Then, Irving will decide whether renovating the building makes economic sense.

“It’s something I would really like to do,” he said. “I want to see that building looking how it ought to.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments1

Great idea but please no more "affordable housing" in the town. All one has to do is to look behind the newly built amphitheater (the half sided monstrosity), to see what "affordable housing" looks like.

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