STONINGTON — The towering wooden grain silo that remains on the Campbell Grain Building property is deteriorating, and the town is considering whether to assist in its demolishment.
Standing near the building last Monday in the rain, First Selectman Rob Simmons touched a corner column with the metal tip of his umbrella to demonstrate how rotted the wood was.
“The major cornerpost has no enduring value to it. It’s been totally eaten by powderpost beetles,” he said as the soft, pulpy wood crumbled apart. “The fire chief is concerned this portion of the building could collapse.”
Built in 1917, the Campbell Grain Building, located at 27 West Broad St. behind Bess Eaton, was a 45,000-square-foot operation comprising a grain elevator and a grist mill. It was later purchased and operated by the Perry Family of Westerly.
In the 1960s, Frank DeCiantis purchased the property, and his son, also named Frank, took ownership in the early 1980s. Under the DeCiantis’ tenure, the site housed a printing business and an office-equipment company and later became rental space for start-up companies.
The flood of 2010 damaged the grist building, and it was vacant until 2016 when it was deconstructed and its antique wooden beams, columns and flooring, considered highly valuable, were sold. Twelve beams were repurposed for use in the Veit Automotive Foundation Museum in Buffalo, Minn.
Unlike the grist mill, the silo was constructed using 6-inch nails to stabilize the building’s structure, rendering the wood unsalvageable, said Simmons, pointing to stacks of boards near the silo’s front entrance.
“They can’t recover the wood because these nails were put in all the way across to keep the silos from bulging out. From an engineering standpoint, you had to pin together the stacked wood with 6-inch-long nails every couple of feet and they’re all the way through,” he said. “You can’t use a chainsaw to recover the wood, it would destroy the equipment.”
Also on site was Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns, who said he had noticed new signs of deterioration.
“That’s all new collapse right there, within the past month,” he said, pointing to a bulge where the wood had created a hole in side of the silo. “There’s no roof on any of this any more, it’s open to the sky. It’s a fire hazard, it’s a public-safety hazard.”
Burns said the roof was removed in 2016 when asbestos at the site was remediated.
Demolishing the silo would cost about $40,000 and the owner of the building doesn’t have the resources to take the building down, said Simmons.
“This is useless and an eyesore, and yet it occupies a potentially valuable piece of property in the PV5 zone, so the town is trying to work with the fire chief, with the Economic Development Commission and with the Planning and Zoning Commission, to remediate, even if the town has to take some action,” he said. “We cannot build Pawcatuck Village as long as sites like this remain — dangerous, hazardous, unattractive and yet located on a significant piece of property.”
The question was where to go from here, Simmons said.
“The challenge for us is, do we assume the responsibility through the blight process of moving the owner in a direction to remediate?” he said. “Alternatively, does the town step in and remediate and put a lien on the property?”
Two weeks ago, the town cited the property under the blight ordinance and began fining DeCiantis $100 per day, but broader action needs to be taken to solve the problem, said Jason Vincent, director of planning, who was also on site.
“Blight is a symptom and we need to determine as a community, should we spend the money to take the building down, should we have some active role in resolving the blight issue that’s here?” he said. “We want this problem to go away, and the $100 per day is not a motivating factor, and it’s not going to lead to a solution. The only solution that we can see is an intervention in which the town has some role in tearing down the structure.”
The town cited 2-4 Mechanic Street for blight, resulting in $60,000 in fines, which the property’s new owner, Jim Lathrop, has asked the town to forgive since he is working to clean up the site, which had long been an eyesore.
Simmons said the town is looking for a similar positive outcome for the Campbell Grain property.
“If you look at 2-4 Mechanic Street, you will see that the blight ordinance as applied resulted in a transfer or sale of the property and now the property is being fixed up,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want to see progress in Pawcatuck Village.”