What do a former trash-to-waste incinerator building in the middle of downtown and 92,000sf of deplorable, old mill buildings, built in 1842 and 1867, have in common?
Both were preventing the town of Biddeford, Maine, a once thriving mill community that had fallen, from coming back to be an energized, vibrant, desirable place to be in 2016 and beyond.
Through a series of adaptive reuse projects, the town purchased and leveled the Maine Energy Recovery Company Building (MERC) building, which previously served as the areas trash incinerator, but whose only current tenant was making custom straps used in NASCAR cars.
The next step was a public/private partnership with the Szanton Company to convert the architecturally beautiful mill buildings in downtown, abandoned since the mid 1960s, into functional workforce affordable housing.
First on the scene was EnviroVantage, New England’s top environmental specialty firm for historical demolition and restoration preparation. EnviroVantages’ expertise working on projects that featured bringing buildings from bygone eras back to life, include Boston’s Old North Church, the Waterbury State Office Buildings in Vermont, the Tower at Harvard University, as well as several lighthouses throughout New England. Their wealth of experience made them well suited for this challenging project.
Working closely with general contractor Wright Ryan, the project seemed pretty straightforward: Remove 300 windows; gut walls, ceilings and floors; open up area for stairs and elevators; and bring the structure back to bare walls and structural beams. No problem – right?
Wrong! Given that the project started in the fall of 2015, the GC asked that all windows be kept in place in anticipation of the colder weather setting in.
The depth of “formerly acceptable building materials” still present in the building presented a challenge on how to sort, categorize, dispose, and remove the waste from the building.
EnviroVantage onsite manager David Massaro rotated 72 dumpsters through the site, with materials sorted into 12 categories designated for specific waste to maximize recycling.
Next challenge: Dealing with the unique horseshoe shape of the original 1842 building. The demolition included taking down portions of the building that had been added at a later date, with the separation point being where carrying beams from the newer building had been tied into the original historical building. With oversight being done by the Maine Historical Society, EnviroVantage was able to use its newest cutting-edge technology, a robotic cutting machine that assisted in the separation of the two buildings and the removal of the exterior walls, neither of which was accessible to an excavator.
The Historical Society also played a role in overseeing the massive amount of sandblasting done to brick, wood, columns, and beams. Within total containment, workers in full abatement gear including masks and hoses, in a totally black setting with only headlamps for light, EnviroVantage was able to bring back much of the original 1842 look, feel, and shine of the mill building.
The final challenge bounces back to the original request by the GC to leave the windows in place to protect from the weather component. Once each section was completed and the spring weather allowed for window removal, it now had to be done in a space that was already finished. What would have been a much easier removal during wholesale demolition, was now a time-consuming, delicate, extraction and select-demolition to protect the exterior finish, interior walls, bricks, sheet rock, and utilities, as well as that pesky sprinkler.
In August 2016, The Falls at Saco Mills is expected to open for tenants. Eighty brand-new one- and two-bedroom apartments with beautiful architectural features of an old mill building, complete with 11-ft. high ceilings, large windows, and exposed carrying beams, many overlooking a large landscaped courtyard with granite benches and flowering trees, at workforce pricing.
“Each one of our residents is like a little economic engine driving Biddeford forward, broadening the tax base,” said Nathan Szanton of the Stanton Group. “They shop in local stores, do their banking downtown, and eat in the local restaurants.”
In the words of Biddeford’s economic and community development director Daniel Stevenson: “This is a wonderful project for downtown. People living in these units will spend money locally and drive the local economy.”
According to EnvroVantage’s Massaro, “We take great pride in helping to restore the character of these newly renovated mill buildings which will be a better representation of the Biddeford in 2016 and beyond. Better than run-down, smelly, eye-sore, waste incinerator and dilapidated mill buildings.”