WINTHROP — For the last couple days, workers wearing protective masks have been at the post office on Main Street, clearing out the charred metal that has been there ever since a fire destroyed the facility earlier this year.

Those workers are preparing to demolish the post office, which was used for seven years before fire tore through it on Feb. 21. Once that job is complete, the U.S. Postal Service has said that it plans to build a new post office in the same location by the fall of 2018.

“It’s good news,” said Scott Allarie, the postmaster in Winthrop, of the fact that the demolition is getting underway.

To make room for the workers, the Postal Service will be closing the facility’s parking lot this weekend and blocking its entrance, Allarie said.

Beginning Monday, the temporary mobile units that have been offering retail mailing services in that parking lot will be moved a short distance away. They’ll continue to operate at 8 Summer St., which used to be the site of a Paris Farmers Union hardware store, Allarie said.

On Friday, an excavator was outside the post office, moving debris into a large dumpster next to the building. Workers were also inside the building, clearing out its blackened remains.

Allarie did not know how long it would take contractors to complete the demolition, and a New England spokesman for the Postal Service, Steve Doherty, didn’t have any new information about the project when reached earlier this week.

Over the summer, residents and businesspeople expressed frustration that the Postal Service had not begun the demolition, even though six months had passed since the fire.

“It looks like a war zone,” Barbara Walsh, executive director of the Winthrop Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said at the time.

“It’s kind of an eyesore, and it’s a hazard area,” said Jeff Hinds, the owner of Sully’s Restaurant and Tavern, which is next door to the post office. “My feeling is, if it was my building, I would have been forced to tear it down a couple weeks after it burned.”

In August, Doherty announced that the facility would be re-built by the fall of 2018, but he couldn’t offer a concrete date when the old structure would be torn down — though he did arrange for landscapers to clean up the weeds that had grown outside it.

“Once they complete the design phase and award the contract, (demolition) would be step 1,” Doherty said at the time. “Whether it will look like the old one, I don’t know. They’re planning on using the existing foundation, apparently. Whoever is going to be doing the rebuild, my assumption is doing the remainder of the demolition.”

The fire was first reported early on the morning of Feb. 21, when postal workers noticed smoke coming out of a ceiling tile. Flames soon swept through the facility, gutting its interior and causing a section of its metal roof to collapse.

Over the next week, federal investigators determined that the fire was an accident caused by an electrical or mechanical malfunction, though they couldn’t pinpoint which, and inspectors from the postal service worked to recover burned mail from the site.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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