August 24, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Recreation Commission, which owns the now-closed East Street Skate House and has control over the adjacent property -- including the pond -- is seeking an emergency permit to have the building torn down.
Last January, a structural engineer hired by the Rec Commission deemed the structure unsafe for occupancy. A fence surrounds the Skate House for that reason.
However, the Historical Commission continues advocating for, and working toward, saving part of the deteriorating building, hoping that an agreement can be reached with the Rec Commission to keep at least part of the structure standing.
"The shed is an important part of the town's history and a piece of Americana," Historical Commission Administrator Andrea Young told the Hingham Anchor following its Thursday meeting.
A shed, as currently proposed, could be used for storage, but would not be up to town building code standards -- including handicapped-accessibility -- for active enjoyment by skaters as it was in the past, as a warming hut.
However, the Rec Commission has said a number of times that they have no use for such a building.
In July the Historical Committee presented a plan to save and restore a portion of the building as a shed, with possible signage telling the history of the Skate House.
The Historical Commission voted Thursday night to impose the town's six-month demolition delay by-law. This grants the Historical Commission an opportunity to delay the process because it's an historic building, and to continue working with the Recreation Commission to come up with potential alternatives.
"If at any time during that six months the Recreation Commission wants to work with us, the delay would stop immediately," Young said. "If the entire building is torn down, nothing can ever be put on the property again, because of [its close proximity] to the pond."
Recreation Commissioner Vicki Donlan and Recreation Department Director Mark Thorell were on the call for this remote meeting, according to Young.
They did not respond to the Hingham Anchor's request for comment.
Funds available for restoration
Greenbush Trust Fund money is available to cover the approximately $28,000 cost of saving and restoring part of the building, but because the Recreation Commission owns it, such an application for funds would need to come from the Rec Commission.
The process is administered by the Historical Commission, which has noted that such a building should not need any major maintenance for about 30 years.
"We need the Rec Commission's help to preserve part of the Skate House," Young said. "It wouldn't cost them a cent, and the building commissioner has already approved the plan." (Historical Commission members and a local contractor have been working with Building Commissioner Michael Clancy to retain a portion of the building.)
Young said Clancy is conducting a review of the building this Wednesday (Aug. 26) to determine whether it is an immediate threat in response to the Rec Commission's request for an emergency permit to tear down the Skate House. It's expected that a representative from Hingham Fire Department, Executive Health Officer Susan Sarni, and Historical Commission Chair Kevin Burke will attend.
In the meantime, the Historical Commission -- as required under the town's demolition delay by-law -- will be sending a four-page letter with attachments to Clancy on Monday explaining why the commission believes that it's in the public interest to "preserve, rehabilitate, or restore" a portion of the "historically significant" Skate House and also the reasons behind their determination that the building should not be demolished.
The letter notes that "in recognition of its historic and cultural importance, the Skate House has been included in the Town of Hingham's Inventory of Historic, Architectural, and Archaeological Assets for decades."
The hope, according to Historical Commission members, is to save the core of the building now -- including the stove, benches, signs, interior walls, floor, and accessories (work they say could be accomplished within a few weeks) -- leaving open the opportunity to potentially raise money at some time in the future to restore the saved portion to full public use if all parties involved agree to take that step.