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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Evening light falls on Nashua's Millyard smokestack Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aldermen want Nashua’s millyard chimney restored to historic height

Whether Nashua’s prominent Millyard chimney was historically 150 or 180 feet tall, aldermen want it restored to its original height again.

Last week, the aldermen’s Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously in support of a resolution to restore the section of the chimney that was recently removed.

Once engineering studies are complete for the chimney, the results will come back before the committee and ultimately before the full board to make a final decision on its restoration, according to Alderman-at-Large Mark Cookson, the committee chair.

Last year, a section of brick and mortar came down from the Millyard structure because its top was deteriorating, worrying city officials that bricks would fall when crews started demolishing the adjacent Boiler House building.

The chimney removal represented the first true physical work on the Broad Street Parkway. Currently, the chimney is being monitored for vibration as the Boiler House comes down to make way for the parkway’s path. The Boiler House is expected to be demolished by May 1, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Wednesday.

Aldermen were not certain whether 15 or 20 feet had been removed from the chimney last year, but it was clear what the structure meant to Nashua, they said.

“It is a landmark within the city, and as you’re driving around, whether it’s on the turnpike or Main Street, it’s the one thing that says, ‘Here’s our Millyard, this is what our city was built on,’” Cookson said Thursday.

Two residents who spoke at the Wednesday night meeting agreed.

“I know that the top of the chimney at one time was a little precarious,” Geoff Daly said. “I believe we’ve got to really look, long and hard, because right now that Boiler House is being destroyed and a large part of Nashua’s history is disappearing into the dumpster, and will never ever rise again.”

“As far as the chimney goes, I think it’s an outstanding plan to keep that up,” former Alderman Fred Teeboom said. “I don’t like the fact that it’s down 15 feet, the ‘M’ of the Millyard is right on top. It really looks ugly. It should go back to 180 feet, if not higher.”

Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess first proposed the legislation to preserve the chimney in February, seeking that it be kept at its current height of approximately 165 feet, or if possible, to have the bricks that were removed, be restored.

The chimney, which dates to 1881, has served as a symbol of the tension between city history buffs who want to keep Nashua’s Millyard buildings intact and progressives who believe that the revitalization of the downtown through the future Broad Street Parkway justifies sacrificing some of the city’s older structures.

The parkway will connect Broad Street to the downtown, allowing commuters to bypass congested Amherst Street, while adding a crossing to the Nashua River and, hopefully attract people to businesses in Millyard Technology Park.

The chimney, recognizable for its literal labeling of the “Millyard” painted down its sides, has come under considerable debate, as residents and officials have argued which height constitutes its historic stature to be preserved in the parkway plans.

On Wednesday, Ward 3 Alderman Diane Sheehan pointed to Telegraph archives that show the chimney has seesawed from 150 feet to 213 feet back down to 180 feet as contractors capped, stabilized, added on and took down sections of the structure over the past century and a half.

“I think the chimney is worth preserving; the height I’m not as real particular about as long as it’s visible, is kind of what I’m thinking,” Ward 5 Alderman Mike Tabacsko said.

City officials, including Lozeau, have said they want to keep the chimney intact to serve as a gateway to parkway commuters.

Federal and state historic preservation authorities have also required that the chimney be maintained at some height in conjunction with the Broad Street Parkway project, Donchess said, though they haven’t specified what that height should be.

Though the chimney is not slated for demolition, engineers have told the city that the chimney might have to be shortened again, down to 100-120 feet, because it doesn’t meet state seismic load or wind requirements.

“I think 180 feet is where it was when they began the project, when we started looking at the Broad Street Parkway and the path of the Broad Street Parkway,” Cookson said. “Their height was 180 feet, and that’s what we started working with probably as recently as 2008.”

Ward 2 Alderman Rick Dowd questioned what it would cost to build the chimney back up to 180 feet after more than $400,000 was spent to remove part of it last year.

The Broad Street Parkway management team is in the process of requesting structural design and cost proposals for the chimney, Donchess said, and the city is waiting on the approval of state and federal agencies to put out proposals for preserving the chimney at heights of 100, 120, 150 and 180 feet.

Despite those studies, which will determine which chimney height is most financially and feasibly salvageable to meet state requirements, Donchess’ legislation emphasizes that the final say in the chimney’s future should fall with aldermen, as it concerns city-owned property.

The exact number of feet that ought to be added back onto the chimney is not as critical, he said.

“This says we’re encouraging the development of a proposal to maintain (the chimney’s) current height and that, if possible, we would like to see the restoration of the original, whatever height that was,” Donchess said, “And finally, that we make the decision.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).