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Future of Facemate property still up in the air

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

CHICOPEE The city of Chicopee has hired a structural engineer from Tighe & Bond to help evaluate the future of the old Facemate property on Main Street. Two weeks ago one twelfth of the building collapsed primarily due to the heavy rains New England has been experiencing.

"The roof was leaking and there appeared to be a lot of pallets and cardboard in that area that got very wet and very heavy," Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette told Reminder Publications.

Bissonnette said an engineer will go through the building and figure out whether it is structurally sound enough for workers to go in and remove asbestos and lead. There is also an ongoing police investigation involving the salvaging of scrap metal and wood from the Facemate site. There is a court order preventing anything from being removed from the site and the mayor said there has been evidence that has been happening. As a result of the lapses in security, Branch security company has been replaced.

"The demolition cost is under $60,000," Bissonnette said. "It's very reasonable. The expense comes with removing the asbestos and lead."

Facemate is part of 72 acres along the Chicopee River that Bissonnette hopes to see revitalized. It includes two manufacturing plants, a Uniroyal tire plant and the Facemate textile mill. Uniroyal has 17 abandoned buildings. Bissonnette said many have been unoccupied for well over 15 years and are in various states of decay. On the Facemate side there are four buildings, one was subject to a fire last summer, and then there are the two large ones which had the collapsed wall last week.

Bissonnette said developers who had previously viewed the property thought that those two buildings could be rehabbed for apartments.

The owner of the property owes the city about $2.4 million in back taxes and water and sewer fees dating back over a dozen years.

"The property owner went bankrupt. Because of legal and environmental questions the bankruptcy court took no action saying there was no value," Bissonnette said, adding that because of environmental issues the entire clean up estimates have ranged between $15-20 million to demolish and remediate all of the buildings and the property.

"I've been very cautious about the city getting involved and taking the property [over]. We've been trying to involve the state through the Mass Development Department," he explained.

Bissonnette said the best news is that the city was able to get Michelin tire company involved and they bought all of the rights and obligations of Uniroyal and they agreed to come in and accept liability for anything that is in the ground at the tire factory. It is a ongoing process that may take up to a year and a half to complete. He said that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was involved on the clean up of exterior chemicals at the Facemate site.

"It's an incredibly complicated legal and environmental procedure. Four generations of high school [students] have gone past that [site]," Bissonnette said. "One of my commitments when I took this job was to bring all the resources to environmentally clean up that [site]."

He said the plants once employed thousands of people and help offer great futures and that its current condition is a shame. He said it's an obligation to the future children to get something done.

"We're going to let the private development community come in with ideas. I can envision a new neighborhood with market rate housing, some commercial and retail stores and perhaps some recreational opportunities," Bissonnette said.