An excavator operator sorts through the rubble after 235 Water St. was demolished Thursday in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Four months after a court ordered the demolition of the fire-damaged building at 235 Water St., it has been pulled down.

The action comes one week before the eighth anniversary of the devastating downtown Gardiner fire that damaged the structure.

The fire, which the mayor at the time called a “community disaster,” also injured four people, damaged three other buildings and destroyed another.

“I feel terrible for people on both sides of this building,” Andrew Carlton, Gardiner city manager, said Friday. “It’s a travesty and this was avoidable at one point, but unfortunately that’s not the case now.”

Gardiner officials sought the court order earlier this year after they ordered the evacuation of 243 Water St., the building adjacent to 235 Water St., when an engineering review they commissioned found the latter to be at risk of catastrophic failure. The condition of 235 Water St., the engineering report said, put residents of 243 Water St. in grave danger.

About a year earlier, they had declared 235 Water St. to be a dangerous building.

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An excavator operator sorts through the rubble after 235 Water St. was demolished Thursday in downtown Gardiner. Residents and businesses occupying the two buildings on the left were ordered to evacuate in February because of the instability of 235 Water St., which was severely damaged in a 2015 fire. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

At that time, David Coulombe, the building’s owner, had said he was surprised by the move because he had been talking to the city’s attorney about his plans to renovate the building to turn it into offices.

But little to no work was done in the two years that followed.

At the court hearing, Coulombe offered to surrender the building to the adjacent owner for $1 so that it could be redeveloped.

Coulombe did not return a call for comment Friday.

The owner of 243 Water St. is Three Pillar Properties LLC, whose sole member is Terry Berry. Berry is both a Realtor and a Gardiner city councilor, who bought the property in 2017. The building’s interior was demolished and rebuilt into apartments on the upper floors and retail space at the street level following the installation of new support structures.

On Friday, Berry said he had not yet been inside his building to see how it fared in the demolition. He said he plans to wait until the demolition and debris removal is complete before he takes a look.

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An excavator operator drops rubble into a dumpster after 235 Water St. was demolished Thursday in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I hired an engineer several months ago to design a wall to put back up to weatherize my (building) and I am just waiting for the plans to get a permit from the city and put the wall up.”

He said when he stopped by Friday morning, the side of his building that the demolition had exposed had been covered by plastic to protect it from the weather.

Berry said he’s being billed $18,900 to reinforce his building, a cost that he and his lawyer have contested.

“I didn’t order the building taken down; I didn’t let it sit there and deteriorate,” he said. “I didn’t cause this mess. Just by proximity, I became a victim of it.”

While McKeon ordered the demolition in March, the judge did not determine how the costs would be allocated.

Carlton, the city manager, said an update on the demolition is due to the court in September.

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