Icon's fate has panels at odds

HOLLIS – The fate of the iconic Ice House, in the Woodmont Orchards town-owned conservation land off Route 122, could be decided by the end of the month, or sooner, according to officials and members of the town Heritage Commission.

The rickety structure, designed to hold ice in an era before refrigeration, was built at the turn of the last century. For years, it has been the subject of photographs and paintings.

Selectmen and commission members disagree over how to preserve the historic landmark.

Ultimately, the board of selectmen will make the decision, based on input from the commission, community members and experts.

Honi Glover, Heritage Commission chairwoman, favors razing the building, saying it is likely to require continuing repairs given its current condition.

By contrast, some selectmen have argued that restoration makes more sense.

The building is propped up with cables that hold it together from the inside, while two-by-fours support it from the outside. One corner droops into an adjacent pond.

“The heritage commission in the past year has shored it up two times. It’s literally falling into the water,” Selectman Frank Cadwell, the board’s representative to the heritage commission, said during a telephone interview.

Cadwell said commission members have expressed concerns about restoring the building, given the erosion on the bank where the ice stand leans into the water.

But Selectman Mark Johnson argues that “one of the most admired scenes in rural Hollis” deserves to remain in its original state, albeit with repairs that preserve the building’s integrity.

“People I’ve had look at the building feel clearly that it can be saved,” Johnson said.

Glover told selectmen recently that she had a plan for replacing the structure, at no cost to the town.

“I originally thought about resurrecting it,” Glover said, explaining that she had changed her mind. “It’s much safer and makes more sense to put up a replica.”

Glover organized a crew of volunteers to demolish and replace the building, saying restoration would endanger workers and would be likely to invite future problems and expenses.

Discussion took a sharp turn last week during the selectmen’s meeting, after Selectman Mark LeDoux announced that the private Marie LeDoux Foundation, started by his mother, was donating $2,000 to the town to pay for repairs to the icehouse.

In addition to the grant, the town has also received about $2,000 from local artist Steve Previte. Previte donated a portion of the proceeds from sales of his prints of the icehouse, about $2,000.

“It’s an icon of Hollis, the most painted and photographed,” Johnson said, adding that he wants to see the building repaired.

In May 2007, at a meeting of the heritage commission attended by several selectmen, the group discussed the pros and cons of repair and replacement of the icehouse. They also considered widening the discussion by querying the community through a survey posted in the local newspapers.

Last week, selectmen agreed to revisit the subject when it meets Monday.

Meanwhile, Glover has solicited three estimates for restoring the building and one for rebuilding it.

Town administrator Troy Brown said the town has received one quote for repair work, $1,850 from Innovative Concepts of Londonderry.

Selectman David Petry, an alternate representative to the heritage commission last year, said the award made last week “changes the options.”

“It speeds up the process,” Petry said.

Still, neither the board nor the Heritage Commission has reached a consensus.

“It’s not right to put up a replica,” Johnson argued, while Glover countered that the expense of repairs and upkeep isn’t worth the investment.

“I had a plan organized that I thought was working out well and wouldn’t cost the town anything, “Glover said. “If you brace it up, save it, it will happen again.”