GARDINER — Four months to the day after fire ripped through a historic Water Street building, a demolition crew began work to finish what the fire started.

That day in mid-July was hot and filled with noise, confusion and people.

This day in mid-November was chilly enough to serve as a reminder that winter’s coming and was a quiet start to the work week.

On Monday, workers from Steven A. McGee Construction blocked off the sidewalk and parking spaces in front of 235 Water St. to set up a staging area to prepare for demolition.

By 11:20 a.m., two workers wearing harnesses hooked to a mechanical lift for safety were getting their first up-close look at the top of the building’s ornate facade. Over the next two weeks, workers will be pulling down the building and hauling away the debris. The initial stages of demolition are expected to take some time as part of it will be done by hand. It’s not clear yet whether any of the architectural features that distinguish the building can or will be preserved.

Barb Skelton, Gardiner code enforcement officer, said the sidewalk will be open again by the close of business on Friday, when workers are expected to be done with the facade.

“It’s public safety, public safety, public safety,” Skelton said.

Next week, she said, the focus of the work is expected to shift to the back side of the building, where the debris will be removed with minimum disruption to the parking area.

Water Street will remain open throughout the project, and on Monday traffic flowed through without interruption. Trucks made deliveries, and a steady stream of residents dropped off payments at the Gardiner Water District building across from the demolition site.

While many businesses are closed on Mondays, Gerard’s Pizza was open and getting ready for the day.

“For a lot of people, the fire is history,” owner Jeff McCormick said. “People have moved on. For us, there has been no actual closure.”

For McCormick, the uncertainty about the fate of 235 Water St. has been looming, concretely and conceptually.

The pizza shop shares a wall with 235 Water St., its neighbor to the west, and Gerard’s was closed for nearly a month after the fire. The fire damage was minimal, but the smoke and water damage was substantial.

Since then, the fate of the building — the most seriously damaged and the location where the fire started — has been in limbo, as city officials and building owner Wayne Chamberland worked through options to save the building, which included Chamberland’s offer to give the building to the city of Gardiner. That offer was declined, and earlier this month, the Historic Preservation Commission granted its approval for the removal of the building from the historic downtown district.

That came as some relief to business owners along Water Street, including Bobbi Knowlton at Raggamuffin, a women’s clothing store.

“It’ll be nice to be able to move on and not be in limbo,” she said.

McCormick said McGee let him know how the demolition is expected to progress.

“They’re hoping to have it down by Thanksgiving, but there’s always a chance of a surprise,” he said. “They’re doing things slowly. I am fairly reassured they’ll do a decent job.”

He’s not sure how his business will be affected, he said, adding that perhaps he’ll get a bump from the workers or the people stopping downtown to watch the progress. “They are being as considerate as possible so we can remain open,” he said.

After the building debris is removed, McCormick said he’ll hire a crew to weatherize the exposed wall. His building was built at roughly the same time as its neighbor, so the shared wall between them was never intended to be an exterior wall.

In the flow of foot traffic on the south side of the street, several people stopped to watch the progress.

“This is the end of an era,” Shawn Dolley, a newly elected city councilor for District 3, noted.

“Maybe it’s the beginning of a new era,” Mayor Thom Harnett, who had stopped by for a few moments, said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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