Boiler House Declared a Dangerous Building

Aerial photo of the International Woolen Mill boiler house, clearly showing a gaping hole where part of the roof has collapsed.

At the City Council meeting on January 18, a hearing was held to determine whether the International Woolen Mill Boiler House in the millyard next to Pioneer Ave. meets the criteria to be declared a dangerous building or nuisance under state statute. The Boiler House is part of the 7.5 acre Sanford Mills Historic District which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The property has been owned by Regco, Inc., since 2007. Prior to that the owner of record was Medea USA Ltd., which had the same mailing address as Regco. Medea USA purchased it in 2003 for $300,000 from International Woolen Co., Inc., which purchased it in 1993 for $1.35 million. It is currently assessed at $142,320. Regco also owns the main International Woolen Mill building as well as the property across from it on the other side of Heritage Crossing. The company is currently headquartered in Miami, FL.

Community Development Director Ian Houseal made the presentation on behalf of the City. He showed maps and aerial views of the property showing the boundaries and location. There is an environmental covenant on the property, because the International Woolen Co. was not able to remove all the residual hazardous waste there when it did a cleanup. Mr. Houseal said the property includes three 10,000 gallon underground fuel oil tanks.

The Notice of Violation sent to the owner from the Code Enforcement office in September 2021 details a lengthy list of issues with the property including unsafe roofing, unmaintained exterior, unsecured premises, graffiti, damaged masonry, cracked/broken/missing windows, deteriorated chimney, and holes in walls. The property’s Vacant Building License is well past due, owing $5,400. The notice concludes that the property is dilapidated, abandoned, an attractive nuisance and a harbor for vagrants. October 9, 2021 was the deadline to correct all these issues. The Notice was sent by certified mail and was signed for. No response from the owner was received.

Mr. Houseal showed numerous photos of the exterior and interior of the building, some of which were taken over the summer and others within the past week. The conditions noted in the Notice of Violation were clearly visible, including broken windows and holes in the roof. Pieces of industrial equipment are still present inside and outside the building, including transformers and the giant boilers. Trees are growing inside the building as well as from the tall chimney, where bricks are visibly loose. Footprints in the snow leading to the building show that people are getting inside. Along Pioneer Ave., fencing for the property is leaning over the sidewalk, which Mr. Houseal said was creating a hazardous condition.

The presentation also included a letter from Josh Benthian, CEO of Northland, which owns the Sanford Mill on Washington St., and Pam Lowy, Executive Director of Great Bay Services, a tenant in the Mill. The letter asked the City to address “a safety hazard for our program and other businesses and residents of 61 Washington St.,” specifically noting dozens of used needles on the ground, homeless people sleeping in doorways and broken glass on the roadway throughout the millyard. Mr. Houseal also presented a four-page list of all the Police Department calls to the mill area in the past three and a half years.

No representative of Regco was present at the hearing, although they received notification it was taking place.

After the hearing was closed, Mayor Mastraccio read through the findings of fact, which reiterated the conditions documented in the Notice of Violation and in photographs. She concluded, “Based on the foregoing findings, the Council adjudges the property is a dangerous building and a nuisance because the building and its components are structurally unsafe and unstable, are improper and unsuitable for the use to which they were put, constitute a hazard to health and safety because of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation and abandonment, and are otherwise dangerous to life and property.”

The Council approved the findings of fact unanimously, as well as the Ordered Corrective Action, which includes that the property is to be secured within 24 hours; that all debris, equipment and dangerous materials are to be removed from the property within 30 days; and the dangerous building and nuisance are to be immediately abated. The owner or party in interest may submit a rehab plan to the City Manager within 30 days, which includes, at a minimum, correcting all deficiencies listed in the findings of fact within a timely manner. The building must be brought up to code. If the order is not complied with, or appealed in a timely manner, the City Manager may undertake the ordered corrective action at municipal expense, and recover all expenses by means of a special tax or civil action. The owner has the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court.

This photo of the International Woolen Mill boiler house shows the broken windows and holes in the wall.
Interior photo showing where snow has come in through the collapsed roof.
Loose bricks and plant growth at the top of the boiler house’s chimney stack.