By Ray Carbone
WARNER – At a meeting in the town hall Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen moved a step closer to selling the 125-year-old Odd Fellows building to a local contractor who wants to use it for business purposes.
The three-member board unanimously approved the sale of the historic 72’-by-42’ three-story wooden structure to resident Nate Burrington, the owner of Burrington Builders and Maintenance, “provided both sides can come to a mutually acceptable purchase-and-sales agreement.”
The board took the unusual move of approving an action with a significant contingency attached to avoid holding additional public hearings in the coming weeks. As John Dabuliewicz, a selectman, explained to the small group of people attending the meeting, state law requires an agreement be in place within 14 days of the last public hearing, which would be this Wednesday, March 15.
“We didn’t want to do that,” the selectman said, because it’s the same night as the annual town meeting.
The action means that the board can continue negotiating with Burrington and move forward with the sale when both sides agree to all facets of a deal.
But it also means that details about the plan, including the price Burrington will pay and any special stipulations attached to the sale, is not yet been made public.
The selectmen said that their ongoing negotiations with Burrington in recent weeks have been going extremely well. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close,” Dabuliewicz said.
“He’s anxious to get this done,” added Allen N. Brown, another selectman, referring to the local contractor.
Resident Martha Michal asked if the board is considering any tax abatements as an incentive to Burrington taking over the building, or a revisionary clause that would allow the town to regain ownership if the contractor is unable to meet certain renovation benchmarks.
“There is a revisionary clause” in the tentative agreement, Dabuliewicz said, which can be used as “leverage” to make sure the building is not left to deteriorate further, but no tax abatement has been mentioned.
Brown said that Burlington’s price to the town for the Odd Fellows building would be only a “token.” “You probably have it on you now,” he quipped.
Community leaders have been trying to figure out what to do with the historic building ever since the town bought it for $50,000 in 1999. Over the years, plans have been advanced that would have renovated it for elderly housing, workforce housing or commercial purposes. But none of the projects were able to secure the necessary financing.
In fact, Rebecca Courser, the director of the Warner Historical Society and a longtime supporter of the building, has recently announced support for a petition warrant article that would ask the selectmen to begin looking into ways to take the structure down.
After so many years of futility, Courser said that she’s concerned about the fire danger the empty wooden building presents to the village. (Residents will consider the petition at the town meeting Wednesday night.)
The building, first constructed by a local chapter of the International Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows in 1892, is structurally sound, according to town officials.
“We did receive a letter (on March 8), from the NH Department of Environmental Services,” town administrator Jim Bingham announced at Thursday’s meeting. “They’ve been overseeing (pollution issues on the building site), and they’ve given it full clearance for soil and groundwater issues.”
There may still be some hazardous materials on the site, including the possibility of lead paint, he said, but those would become the responsibility of Burrington if the purchase is completed.
It was only a few weeks ago that the local building contractor first approached the selectmen about purchasing the Odd Fellows structure. He wants to renovate the building to use as a combination workshop and office space for his business, which is based in Warner. He said he may convert the top floor to one or two resident apartments and that he hopes to find grant money to preserve the structure’s historic clock tower.
But Burrington is confident that his do-it-yourself approach to save and renovate the Odd Fellows building will succeed where other, more ambitious, proposals have fallen short.
Burrington was not at Thursday’s meeting, but the selectmen said they are expecting him to make a decision about buying the historic building soon. “It’s on him at this time,” Dabuliewicz said.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, Sutton, N.H., on March 14, 2017.