Downtown: Gasholder building’s future still uncertain

  • A shot of Concord's gasholder building in 2014. ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor file

  • A shot of Concord's gasholder cupola. ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor file

  • The view from inside the gasholder through the doorway to the valve house. Courtesy—Monitor file

  • The inside of the Gasholder building on South Main Street showing the roof and the scaffolding that rises from the base. Geoff Forester—Monitor file

  • The iconic gasholder building on South Main Street in Concord is seen on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • The iconic gasholder building on South Main Street in Concord is seen on Jan. 29, 2018. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • The iconic gasholder building on South Main Street in Concord is seen on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • An interior shot of the Gasholder building on South Main Street shows the roof and the scaffolding that rises from the base. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • One of the gasholder building’s entrance areas has significant roof damage. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/6/2019 5:41:17 PM

A year has passed since the Concord gasholder’s iconic tilted top was enshrined on the National Register of Historic Places.

Officials said at a Thursday Heritage Commission meeting that the building’s top is starting to twist off its axis, probably because of the structural damage it endured after a tree staved the roof during a summer storm years ago.

Other than that, there’s been no movement on restoring or purchasing the gasholder owned by Liberty Utilities, perhaps the last of its kind in America. And that has members of the Heritage Commission worried for a few reasons.

Key is that officials don’t know how long the building can last in its current condition.

James Wieck, senior project manager for GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. and environmental advisor to Liberty Utilities, said it’s hard to imagine how long the structure can stand.

After all, it was built in 1888, and it “wasn’t engineered the way buildings are today,” he said.

Then, there’s the matter of what could be done to restore the building, and how much that would cost.

Most dramatic and least expensive would be to demolish the gasholder, at $350,000. To partially fix the damaged masonry and roof would cost about $600,000. Fixing the whole thing – practically restoring the top to original quality – would cost a steep $2.1 million.

That last figure gave members pause.

“There’s no way Liberty Utilities is going to do it, to fix the building for the historic benefit,” said Richard Woodfin, planning board representative. “Finding a home for it is a long shot. I think (GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc.) should be prepared to say how long it will last until it caves in on itself, because unless Liberty sells it, nothing is going to happen.”

While Liberty Utilities is working with the city to market the building, Wieck said recent efforts to secure a developer have been unsuccessful. 

Built in 1888 to hold coal gas, then a major source of light and heat, the brick building includes a huge floating cap that can trap up to 120,000 cubic feet of gas under water. 

The cap is 88 feet in diameter and weighs several tons. It rose and fell depending on how much gas had been pumped into storage or pumped out to customers.

The gasholder was used through 1953, when coal gas was replaced by natural gas. A second gasholder building, made of metal, existed on the site for five decades but was torn down in the 1990s.

Woodfin questioned who would be willing to take the building on and keep it as is, rather than revamp it.

“I get why people want to see it as a restaurant or a bar, but the historic piece of it is that the building still has its guts in it,” he said. “You can’t put anything in to change it. I think we’re in a Catch-22 here, a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go.

“It’s unsexy,” Woodfin noted later.

Others echoed Woodfin’s concerns. 

“It’s not like you can fix it up and use it, like a mall,” added Commission member Richard Jacques.

That led some to wonder if the city would be willing to take on the cause.

“If the city stepped up, that would solidify the future of the building,” said Commission member James Spain.

But City Planner Heather Shank said it was unlikely the city would choose to do that alone.

“The options are either the city purchases the building, because they find it a worthy cause, fix it up and sell it, like they did with the tannery site,” she said. “I don't think the city would intervene on behalf of Liberty Utilities unless a developer was interested.”

Special election sign-ups

Sign-ups for two vacant City Council seats opened on Friday, and the races are already drawing attraction.

Contestants for the Ward 10 seat vacated by Daniel St. Hilaire so far include two people who have never run for public office before.

Zandra Rice Hawkins, of Edward Drive, the founding executive director of Granite State Progress, is a familiar face to those who frequent the State House. 

Joe Shoemaker, of Groton Drive, has also thrown his hat into the ring. He is currently the director of the state’s Office of Professional Licensure & Certification.

Residents will remember David Sky, of Appleton Street, a Complete Streets advocate and former Bernie Sanders campaigner who challenged St. Hilaire for the spot in 2017.

So far, current Ward 4 Council Byron Champlin, who announced his intent to run for the spot last month, has no competitors. 

Residents have until Jan. 14 to file for office. The election will take place in March.

     (Material from ‘Monitor’ archives was used in this report.  Caitlin Andrews can be reached at  369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews .)



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