Photo Gallery | Demolition of former St. Francis Church begins
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Starting at the top of its 168-foot spire, workers on Monday began the painstaking process of deconstructing St. Francis of Assisi Church.
A crane stretched high in the air at the corner of Union and Eagle streets as crews battled chilly rain and blustering winds. The first step was to save the cross.
"It's a slow process to make sure that it's done safely," said North Adams Fire Director Stephen Meranti, who has been monitoring the operation. "They're taking it down piece by piece by hand until there may be a point where hey can get some larger chunks off there."
Following a partial collapse of the steeple on Thursday, the Diocese of Springfield sent engineers to inspect the facility and found, along with city building inspectors, the structure to be unsafe.
On Sunday, the diocese announced the only viable option would be to raze the entire church, which hasn't been in use since 2008.
The demolition of the steeple is expected to last through the week and the remaining structure will follow, according to diocese spokesman Mark Dupont. The adjacent rectory will not be torn down.
Amid gusty winds and without construction equipment, it was unclear on Sunday when the demolition of the historic church building and its steeple would commence. But by Monday morning a crew was on site and the crane was anchored to ground, ready to begin.
"I'm actually very encouraged because technically we're ahead of the game from what we were talking about yesterday," said Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Though also most businesses remained open, Eagle Street was cut off from vehicular traffic between Main and Union streets. Nearby Village Pizza remained closed and residents of the adjacent flatiron building continued to be barred from their homes as inspectors have deemed the steeple to be structurally unsound. They were not expected to be allowed back on Monday.
City officials were unsure how many residents were evacuated from the flatiron building.
"We're really trying to get them in as soon as possible," Meranti said. "Their safety is of the most concern to us."
A steady stream of onlookers gawked from behind safety tape at the demolition of the church, a staple of the community's skyline for more than a century, throughout the unseasonably cold spring day. Videos and photos taken as keepsakes during the church's final days were shared on social media on Sunday and Monday.
"I was there when they were lowering the cross," Alcombright, said, "and I have to tell you, I was moved by that."
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.