Athol board considers razing of Bidwell Barn

The Selectboard looked at potentially razing the Bidwell Barn during a discussion on the 100-acre Bidwell property.

The Selectboard looked at potentially razing the Bidwell Barn during a discussion on the 100-acre Bidwell property. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-08-2023 5:00 PM

ATHOL – As discussions continue on the future of the 100-acre Bidwell property, the Selectboard looked at potentially adding housing and demolishing the Bidwell Barn.

No final plan has been decided on, and a presentation is expected at the Annual Town Meeting next June. At the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the board that a survey answered by more than 400 people indicated “a clear preference for preserving open space, with general support for shared uses focused on active recreation and trails mixed in with that.”

There was some support for housing,” he continued, “and very limited support for commercial and industrial use.”

As part of the continued talks on what the town would like to see done with the land, Suhoski suggested another presentation by BSC Group, a consulting firm which conducted a town-wide survey over the summer and presented the results in late November. The board decided to hold the meeting on Jan. 30 at the Athol Public Library at 6 p.m. Board member Rebecca Bialecki asked Suhoski to have BSC put together a plan illustrating what a mixed use proposal for the property might look like

During the meeting, board member Brian Dodge said that he’d like to see the barn on the Bidwell site torn down, a sentiment echoed by other board members.

“It’s not historical, it’s nothing. It’s a barn that was built in 1910,” Dodge said. “It’s going to cost too much to repair. Let’s put a walking path, a bike path in – I think we can do that. But to pay for that, I think we have to sell off some of that land in order to pay for it. We’re already into it for $500,000, plus the studies that we’ve done over the years on what to do with it.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Dodge also suggested setting aside an aquifer on the property for a future well, as well as creating “20 acres, 30 acres of housing. We could make that elderly housing – put that right in the deed.”

Bialecki said another presentation by BSC could be helpful because it could pinpoint those areas on the property that would best accommodate housing, an aquifer and the proposed Rabbit Run Rail Trail.

“Let’s recover some of our costs,” Dodge said. “We paid $500,000 for it. I don’t know how much we paid in studies, but let’s recover some of that.”

Bialecki pointed out that any studies done on the site were paid for with grant monies.

“But, I think we have a lot value still there, to sell it off for development,” she continued. “We also could take advantage of some smart logging. We have some trees that we could take out and still maintain a good, healthy forest.”

Town Counsel John Barret pointed out that the deed needs to be looked at closely to determine if there were any restrictions included in the document when the town purchased the property.

In response to a question from resident Mary Holtorf, Suhoski said that an engineering study of the barn, the cost of which was approved by town meeting voters, had not yet begun.

“We haven’t given a notice to proceed, yet, on that,” he said.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.