Liberty Utilities, city reach agreement to keep gasholder from collapsing

  • Nicholas Mitchell, chairman of the N.H. Preservation Alliance’s Board of Directors; Susan Fleck, president of Liberty Utilities New Hampshire; and Concord City Manager Tom Aspell sign a memorandum of understanding to help preserve the gasholder. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 4/22/2021 2:53:52 PM

Emergency work will be done this year on Concord’s historic gasholder to keep it from collapsing while its future is decided, following an agreement between the city, Liberty Utilities and the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance.

The Preservation Alliance announced Thursday that contractors will “conduct emergency stabilization in the upcoming construction season,” including fixing a broken compression ring at the base of the roof and patching the roof and wall to keep out water. “The plan will avert the near-term risk of total loss from collapse or demolition, and buys time to secure additional funding and uses for the property,” the alliance said in a statement.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed by the three parties, Liberty Utilities, which owns the historic brick building and 2.4 acres around it, will match funds from an anonymous donor for the emergency work. That donor has pledged up to $500,000 to help preserve the building. 

An engineering study estimated that stabilizing the gasholder could cost as much as $400,000, while preserving it long-term as a monument could cost millions. Turning it into a usable building would cost many millions more.

 “We see it as a down-payment for the full preservation effort,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Preservation Alliance. “There is a lot more to do, but this is a very significant step forward.”

Supporters argue that preserving the building on South Main Street near Exit 13 could act as a spur to develop the city’s South End, improving business and residences there.

In December, Frank Lemay of Milestone Engineering told a meeting of the city’s ad hoc Gasholder Steering Committee on Monday that the building was  “at the 11th hour, plus maybe 55 minutes,” saying that he feared a significant snowstorm could collapse the roof.

The gasholder, built in 1888, stored gases used to heat Concord for seven decades until natural gas arrived via pipeline in 1952. It has been mostly empty since. In 2014 a falling tree punched a hole in the roof, letting in rain and wildlife, accelerating decay.

The gasholder, 88 feet in diameter and almost 30 feet high in the center, is a single circular room that holds a massive metal cap that sat atop 120,000 cubic feet of gas, floating up and down as gas was pumped into or out of the building.

Liberty Utilities bought the site in 2012 when it purchased National Grid’s gas business in New Hampshire. The property was used to make “manufactured gas” out of coal before natural gas arrived.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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