By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Only days after closing on the sale of the former Mary Foss School, the town is still footing the bill for the dilapidated building.
Town Manager Keith Hickey said the building, auctioned Oct.17, was recently vandalized and its valuable copper piping stripped. Hickey notified selectmen at their meeting Monday night after the vandalism was discovered by the new owner that morning.
The town and owner Elias Kanj had just closed on the sale of the 89-year-old white clapboard building on Friday.
Kanj, who purchased the Lawrence Road property for $309,000, has not revealed his plans for the building, Hickey said. Kanj could not be reached for comment.
Hickey said the back door was kicked in and the copper piping to the furnace stolen. Police throughout Southern New Hampshire have reported an increase in copper thefts in recent years. The stolen pipe is sold, the money often used to buy drugs, according to police.
Although there was no other vandalism, Hickey said the furnace is inoperable.
“They can’t heat the building without replacing the piping,” he said.
The heat has been turned off in the building and water pipes drained ever since the building was shuttered late last winter so there was no danger of the pipes bursting, he said.
Hickey said although it’s not known when the theft occurred, it was likely after the auction and before the closing.
He said he believed it was the town’s responsibility to have its insurance company pay the damage and replacement costs. Selectmen did not dispute his assessment.
The town manager said a cost estimate has yet to be calculated. The incident was reported to police.
The town will be paying another bill for a building Hickey and selectmen decided to sell because it was becoming to costly to maintain. Voters approved the prospective sale in March.
“It was time to move on,” Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said earlier this fall.
Hickey has said it cost the town about $25,000 a year to heat and maintain the former school. The building requires major upgrades to its roof, siding and heating system, and has potentially hazardous asbestos and lead paint.
The town spent $5,210 to remove an old fuel tank and an additional $1,685 on a study of the lead paint and asbestos removal, he said.
The study revealed it would cost between $15,000 to $50,000 to address the problem — depending on the options — and $18,000 to remove the asbestos tiles, Hickey said. The new owner would have to pay for that work.
Approximately 20 people turned out for the auction conducted by James R. St. Jean Auctioneers of Epping. Selectmen set a minimum bid of $150,000 for the 7,479-square-foot building, which sits on 1.4 acres. The property was assessed at $410,000.
Until the building was vacated so it could be sold, it served as a home to nonprofit agencies, including Rockingham Community Action, ServiceLink and the Greater Salem Caregivers.
It also housed municipal offices, most recently the town’s human services department. The building, which opened in 1924, served as a school for several decades.