Village looking at costly demolition of Crounse House

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Many unsuccessful attempts have been made over the past few years to save the historic Dr. Frederick Crounse House. 

ALTAMONT — Could condemning the entire Frederick Crounse House save taxpayers thousands of dollars?

The historic eyesore at the gateway to Altamont — purchased in 2006 by the village and town, which let it languish — was first set to be demolished in 2017, only to be spared the wrecking ball repeatedly in the ensuing years as builders, a local citizens’ group, and this newspaper sought to save the home of Altamont’s first doctor. 

In September 2020, the board of trustees unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the village to solicit bids to demolish the building. A month later, Guilderland, which co-owns the property, adopted a similar resolution. 

During the Jan. 5 meeting of the Altamont Village Board, Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf, who is spearheading the demolition for the village, said he learned from the project engineer that, just because the back of the building had collapsed and been condemned, it doesn’t mean “we can automatically take it down”; an asbestos abatement would first have to be undertaken.

Fahrenkopf said the engineer explained that, if the village and town were to treat the house as entirely containing asbestos and raze the entire building, that “would not fly,” because the entire building had yet to be condemned — only portions of the house had been condemned so far, in particular the back part where the roof had caved in.

And as recently as four to five weeks ago, Fahrenkopf said during the Jan. 4 meeting, someone from the town’s building department inspected the structure and decided against condemning the rest of the house.

“So, until the town says that it’s not safe to be in, in theory, people can go in and abate the asbestos in the front part,” he said, which is what the state will require. 

Fahrenkopf said the village and town are trying to save residents as much money as they can, but, if the building has to be abated before it can be taken down, “then that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Responding to a request for an explanation as to why the Crounse House had not been condemned, Jacqueline Coons, Guilderland’s chief building and zoning inspector, said in an email, “At this time there is no imminent threat to public safety from the building as a whole. If the building becomes less stable we may be in a position to modify the existing order of condemnation.”

Coons said the request would be forwarded “to the person who can answer your questions,” an inspector who “has been routinely evaluating the state of the building.” No further explanation was received before press time.

A 2016 structural assessment of the home found that the front portion of the building, the primary residence, had been “in fair to poor condition,” but there had also been “extensive rot of structural elements.”

Coons told The Enterprise in 2017 that a building condemnation would ease the regulations, somewhat, related to its demolition. “If a building is unsafe, certain things are not required, if it’s demolished by the owner,” Coons said at the time. “Part of the regulations for surveying it could go away by me declaring it condemned.”

State rules say that condemned buildings can be demolished without an asbestos survey, although all materials must be assumed to contain the carcinogen, and all demolition must meet state Labor Department requirements for handling the hazardous material.

At the Jan. 5 meeting, Trustee Dean Whalen asked Fahrenkopf if the engineer had any “sense of the cost” to demolish the house — and wondered if it was still in the “$30,000 range that was kick[ed] around a while back.”

Fahrenkopf said, “I know we had that number,” referring to the $30,000 range, but “depending on who you ask, it’s either an accurate number or not an accurate number. I know that the town seemed to think that [estimate] wasn’t correct.”

Mayor Kerry Dineen said that two earlier estimates received by Altamont’s superintendent of Public Works, Jeffrey Moller, were in the $28,000-to-$30,000 range, but those figures did not include asbestos abatement — those estimates were only for knocking down the building and hauling the remnants to a hazardous-waste landfill.

The 2016 structural report on the Crounse House did not offer a demolition-only option, but did estimate that it would cost nearly $53,000 to remove the back part of the building; reinforce the remaining structure; and abate what was left standing. A Knox builder who specializes in historic restoration who was interested in redeveloping the house at one time, estimated in July 2019 that it would cost $50,000 alone to abate the building.  

The village had acknowledged in the past it would cost more for a contractor to remove the asbestos from the building before taking it down and was prepared for such a scenario, setting aside $50,000 for demolition, which the town is matching.

Whalen asked during the Jan. 4 meeting if that’s what is being anticipated, an asbestos abatement followed by demolition.

The only potential “add alternate” alternative, where contractors would have to include a bid price for additional potential work, would be the salvaging of “historical artifacts — if there are any left that are worth salvaging, and salvaging some of the frame timber,” Fahrenkopf said.

Trustee John Scally asked, “And for the time being, after the building comes down, we’re just going to keep it as just an empty green space for a while?”

Dineen responded, “That will come...” as Scally finished her thought, “Down the road.”

Whalen said that, even after the house is finally taken down, there would still be a garage — built some time in the late 1960s or early ’70s — on the property, that “may eventually have to come down,” in addition to an “outhouse,” that would still be on site. 

“I heard that is a historic outhouse,” Fahrenkopf quipped in response. 

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