A building at 247 Water St., which encompasses the gray and yellow facades and has been ordered evacuated, is seen Friday in downtown Gardiner. Instability of 235 Water St., far right, that was damaged in a 2015 fire, was the reason for the order. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — The tenants of 247 Water St. have been ordered to vacate the building after an engineering report declared the adjacent fire-damaged building to be at risk of catastrophic failure.

Gardiner city officials issued the order on the advice of professional engineers and legal counsel after an engineering firm’s examination in January of 235 Water St. from outside showed the building is unstable and will fail.

Mayor Patricia Hart said it feels like the tragedy of the 2015 fire has continued for seven years through the inaction of several of the building’s owners including the current owner, who the city gave many opportunities to address the building’s problems.

“Tragically, that did not happen,” Hart said Friday. “Because of the stubborn inaction of the owner of 235 Water St., five people and a retail store next door are unexpectedly displaced in the coldest week of the year. His willful neglect of the building has caused harm to these innocent neighbors and significantly compromised the abutting property owners’ use of their buildings.”

Because the two buildings share a wall, the city’s latest engineering report said, the failure of 235 Water St. puts the residents in the adjacent building in “grave danger.”

“Most likely this failure will not give time for anyone to react,” the report said. “This is particularly alarming for residential units where occupants could be sleeping and therefore less cognizant and responsive to the danger they are in.”


The report further states: “It is (our) opinion that the threshold of responsibility has been crossed and that any act to disregard the severity of the findings of this report should be considered a criminal act.”

Both 235 Water St. and 247 Water St. were damaged in the 2015 downtown fire. While Terry Berry, a Realtor and Gardiner city councilor, bought and renovated 247 Water St., no work has been done to 235 Water St., which has undergone at least two ownership changes.

Because of the conflict of interest, Berry has not taken part in city discussions about 235 Water St.

The building at 235 Water St., left, is seen Friday in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

David Coulombe, who owns the fire-damaged building, said Friday via text message that the building is complex and he is in litigation with mediation set for this month.

After city officials declared 235 Water St. a dangerous building a year ago following a structural evaluation by Wentworth Partners & Associates in 2021, Coulombe said he thought his building was salvageable. And while fire had damaged the third floor of the building, the rest of it was fine.

But the engineers reported they found deficiencies in the building’s structural strength and stability and recommended the masonry wall on the building’s south side be shored up or that the portions of the building deemed unfit for service be demolished. They also recommended that the wall between the two buildings, never built as an exterior wall, be addressed.


Berry said Friday he has told tenants in the four apartments and retail space he’s not enforcing their leases and is returning their security deposits. They have been given until Feb. 8 to leave.

The retail tenant, Gardiner 4Twenty, has moved to the company’s newest location on Togus Road in Chelsea for now and is looking for a new location in Gardiner. Owner Edward DuGuay said he’ll be posting boxes at his Chelsea and Hallowell locations to collect donations to help the displaced tenants.

Gardiner City Manager Andrew Carlton said Friday that city staff members are committed to working with the displaced tenants to secure space for them elsewhere.

“It saddens me that it has come to this because as we all know, housing is at a premium currently,” Carlton said.

City officials hope the building can be demolished soon, he said, but because it’s privately owned, it’s the building owner’s responsibility to address the situation.

“We are pursuing our options in court,” he said, which would be to seek a demolition order.

“It is our fervent hope the building remains standing so that it can be taken down safely,” he said. “In the meantime, we have an obligation to protect the public.”

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