- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - For years, the former Appleton National Bank was just another dilapidated once-grand downtown building that had fallen on hard times.

Built in 1879, the four-story building had not been fully utilized for more than three decades. A dental office and a café took up some space on the ground floor, but that was it.

Now, the building is being completely renovated - and could do for Central Street what the Lowell Community Health Center did for Jackson Street, transforming an eyesore into a gem of a building, and bringing jobs and people downtown.

Crews have been returning the High Victorian Gothic style to its glory since last fall.

First, more than 1.5 million pounds of debris - including more than 300 radiators, 20,000 nails and more - had to be removed. Haphazard additions over the decades had added new floors on top of old ones, or drop ceilings below higher ones, and that all had to be stripped away.

From the basement, about 15,000 bricks that were piled up in spots had to be carried out up a staircase.

“This was the level of commitment you’re talking about,” said Arthur “Chip” Gonsalves, a Lowell resident and vascular surgeon who bought the building two years ago without any particular use in mind.

Element Care, a senior services company, came upon the property listing for 166 Central St. last year, but by the time the company contacted the agent, it had just been sold.

That turned out not to be a hurdle at all. Gonsalves liked the idea of working with a company that provided services to seniors.

Lynn-based Element Care preferred to be in the city and in such a building, even if it meant higher construction costs than simply starting construction from scratch elsewhere.

“The bones of the building are really pretty incredible,” said project manager Cynthia Jalbert, as she led a tour of the site last week.

The building’s historical value was not always recognized.

Gables, cresting, and a plate-glass and cast-iron storefront were all stripped away in the early 20th century. Lower ceilings brought the first floor’s 16-foot-high ceilings down so low that the top several feet of the first-floor windows had to be covered over. A black metal screen that covered part of the second and third floors in the 1970s was an ill-fated attempt to make the building look newer.

“That’s pretty objectionable these days,” architect Jay Mason of Lowell-based Architectural Consulting Services said. “But back then, it was all the rage to try to make a building look more modern.”

Now, the brick exterior has been touched up, a colonnade on the first floor is being restored, and more than 200 windows will be replaced.

“We tried to keep as much as we could,” said Robert Wakefield, the executive director of Element Care, which is building a center with senior day programs, medical offices and other services.

Many massive wooden beams remain, and the construction crew has been able to carve openings in walls in some places to expose the brick behind it - a clever touch that keeps as much of the feeling of a 19th century building as possible.

There were three vaults from the old Appleton National Bank: one in the basement will remain, one in the first floor was taken out, and another was kept in place except for the door. Even removing the door was a major undertaking. It weighed six tons and was 18 inches thick.

A 35,000-pound forklift had to be brought in to put the door on a flatbed to be carried away.

“You figure that getting that door in was just as hard as taking it out,” said Brian Auger, the supervisor for Chapman Construction.

Gonsalves bought the building without a plan for how to use it other than restoring a building he had always appreciated for its brick and masonry, and to create construction jobs.

“It really had some serious deficits,” he said. “It had been let go for 100 years, really.”

Nearly everyone he spoke to advised him not to buy the building, Gonsalves said. But he saw the potential and went for it. He’ll never turn a profit, he said, but that wasn’t the purpose.

“I began to feel like I was a steward for the building,” he said.

Investment in bringing the building back will likely surpass $10 million, Gonsalves said.

Element Care plans to open by the fall.

The first floor of the old bank, which will retain its molded ceiling, will be turned into a main room for Bingo, crafts, music, dancing or any other large activity. The second floor will have an exercise room, behavioral health and social work centers, and an occupational therapy area that will teach the basics of living at home while aging.

The third floor will have a second large activity room, a kitchen, an area for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and, in one of the best features, a roof deck and garden area on the Hurd Street side.

“We thought it was important to get outdoor space, so we’re fortunate to be able to do it,” Wakefield said.

The fourth floor is in some ways the most impressive, with 15-foot ceilings, exposed wooden beams and several skylights. The exact use of that space is yet to be determined.

Element Care provides what’s called all-inclusive care for the elderly, known as PACE, which includes in-home care. The company has seven existing centers like what’s planned in Lowell, in Beverly, Lynn, Gloucester and Methuen.


Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, https://www.lowellsun.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide