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NL council reluctant to prevent hatchery demolition

NEW LONDON -- The New London City Council isn't convinced the former fish hatchery building downtown should remain, but are giving a woman who wants to save it more time.

NEW LONDON -- The New London City Council isn't convinced the former fish hatchery building downtown should remain, but are giving a woman who wants to save it more time.

Renee Jenniges, who lives in rural Spicer and owns a business in New London, is trying to prevent the building from being torn down. She attended the council meeting Wednesday to try to persuade the council to support saving the building.

The mayor and council members told her they were reluctant to stop the building's demolition. The city has dealt with the dilapidated building for more than 20 years, even threatening condemnation if improvements weren't made.

The state Department of Natural Resources, which owns the building, has agreed to demolish the top portion of it. Earlier this year, the DNR said it would be torn down in October, but the project hasn't been bid because a technical glitch in the surveying process set them back. The demolition might not happen until spring.

The DNR won't sell the building to Jenniges because its foundation is related to the dam on the nearby Mill Pond. Depending on how the dam is replaced, the building might have to be torn down anyway.

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The DNR is willing, however, to leave the building up until it determines if a new dam would affect it. If the building does not need to be demolished for the dam, the DNR would consider selling the property.

But the dam study could take two to five years, and the DNR has said it would not make any improvements to the building during that time.

Jenniges is willing to use her own money to fix up the building. The DNR would let her volunteer to do some small exterior improvements, such as painting the eaves or trimming the hedges, but wouldn't allow her to fix the roof or do other larger improvements.

The roof and the exterior walls need fixing because they are safety hazards, according to the council

But if the building was left up, it's unclear if those things would be fixed.

Jenniges said it's a "win-win situation" if the council supports leaving the building up. The building may be torn down later if that's necessary for the dam or it could be sold and renovated if it's not part of the new dam.

Mayor John Mack questioned why it should be saved when it doesn't display fish like it did in the past.

"This building is a WPA project. It was never the Taj Mahal. It looks like an ordinary brick building unless you have an aquarium in it," he said.

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Jenniges asked if they had been in the building before. Councilman Dave Schneider recounted a childhood field trip to the hatchery to see the fish.

She said it needs to be saved because it's part of their heritage. The hatchery was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1941.

"You guys, you're just so willing to tear down a piece of history," she said.

The council asked for in writing what the DNR would allow her to do to the building. Mack also asked for a detailed list by Friday of the improvement Jenniges would like to make to the building.

After Jenniges left, the mayor and council discussed her proposal. Schneider said if the council were to take a vote, they would have it torn down.

"She didn't convince me," he said.

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