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Contractor to demolish landmark church in Fort Plain

July 18, 2011
By JOHN R. BECKER , The Leader Herald

FORT PLAIN - A landmark church in the village is scheduled for demolition, but not everyone is happy about it.

Barry Yerdon Jr., a contractor from Fort Plain, purchased the Universalist Church at a tax auction in May. The building is located at 39 Mohawk St. in the village at the intersection with Center Street.

Yerdon was the only bidder, and he paid $500. He has received a permit from the village to demolish the building. He plans to dismantle it carefully and save as much material as possible, rather than simply tear it down.

Article Photos

The former Universalist Church in Fort Plain, above, recently was purchased at auction by Barry Yerdon Jr.
The Leader-Herald/John R. Becker

"I'm salvaging the building one brick at a time," Yerdon said. "A wrecking ball would destroy the materials."

Yerdon estimates the demolition will cost him $120,000.

He's not saying what he plans to do with the property once the building is down.

"I don't want to discuss my plans for the property yet," he said. "When I know the funds are available, I will talk about what I want to do with it."

Village resident Tolga Morawski has created a website, www.historicfortplain.com, asking for donations to allow his group to buy the building from Yerdon.

"It's a building with historical significance," Morawski said. "It's a landmark. It's the tallest building in town. You can see it as you drive on the bridge from Nelliston or as you come down the hill. It's right in the center of town. It's a beautifully constructed building that's in great shape."

Morawski said the features of the building would make it potentially useful for the village.

"It has a 400-seat sanctuary with a beautiful tin ceiling and great acoustics," he said.

The large downstairs space would be ideal for a community art gallery, Morawski said.

"There's also a large kitchen and lots of office space," he said. "It would be great for public events."

Not everyone agrees with Morawski's assertion that the building is structurally sound. Barry Vickers, code enforcement officer for the village of Fort Plain, said the structure was condemned in 2007.

"It's an unsafe structure," Vickers said. "The first floor is in the basement."

Because the building is condemned, no one except the owner is allowed inside, Vickers said.

"It's to protect individuals and protect the municipality," he said.

Montgomery County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman said the county's only purpose in auctioning properties such as the Universalist Church is to get them back on the tax rolls. The building was purchased in 1999 by Wheelchairs and Assistance for the Disabled of Union City, N.J., from the Diocese of New York, Southern Episcopal Church, which had owned it since 1990.

"We don't set a minimum bid," Bowerman said, referring to Yerdon's purchase of the building for $500. "If we had set a minimum bid on that building, the county would have been stuck with that church. The county is out of it now. The closing has already taken place, and the [Montgomery County] Board of Supervisors approved the bid."

 
 

 

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