New York architect has plans for Troy Mills
By Kyle Jarvis Sentinel Staff Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2013 8:00 am
TROY — An architect from New York City has a grand plan for Troy Mills that would not only save the historic structures, but also create a sustainable food distribution hub.
The plan would transform the 19-acre, 300,000-square-foot complex into a network of operations to include hydroponic production of vegetables and fish, onsite educational and research opportunities, a warehouse for regional distribution of locally grown food, a community kitchen and farm-to-table restaurant. All of this would be done using sustainable energy that won’t require drawing any power from the grid.
Rurik Ekstrom lives in New York City with his family, where he owns and operates his own architecture firm. But the family also owns a home in Fitzwilliam, he said.
His interest in the Troy Mills property was sparked quite randomly, he said.
“In the course of living in the area, one of our favorite things to do was to run over to Monadnock State Park and climb the mountain, and you can’t avoid driving by the (Troy) mill site when on those treks,” he said. “After numerous times, wondering what was going on, and what a marvelous potential this group of buildings and properties has, it finally dawned on me to make some calls and find out what’s happening.”
That was about a year ago. Ekstrom called Donald A. Upton, president of the Troy Redevelopment Group, which Troy’s board of selectmen assigned to the group to manage and cleanup the property.
That was no small task, considering the rather productive, but dirty, history of the site.
Troy Mills opened in 1851, producing fabrics for blankets. It changed hands over the years, as did its production focus, which eventually came to include vinyl products, said William “Tom” Matson, a town selectman.
“As much as it contributed to the economy, the town stunk of vinyl every morning,” he said. “The town had to redo its landfill and fund that through a bond because of pollution (from the mills) that was dumped in the landfill, so when people talk about the ‘golden days of Troy Mills,’ you’ve got to factor in all the negatives, too.”
Troy Mills closed in 2001.
After several years, the Troy Redevelopment Group finished overseeing the cleaning of the site earlier this year, aided by a $600,000 loan from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, a $400,000 grant from the federal government, and contributions from a Florida-based developer that initially wanted to turn the mills into a mixed-use housing complex, Upton said.
“To get all the bad stuff out of the mill site, asbestos, mercury, to get it ready to use was key,” he said.
When the Florida-based developer’s plans fell through, at least temporarily, due to the housing and lending crisis a few years ago, the initial plan was to wait out the market and hope for the best, said Ekstrom. He decided to contact the developers himself to see if they’d be interested in an alternative plan for the property.
“We did a bunch of research together and they were more and more intrigued,” he said. “We got together and put together initial concepts for the property. We said, ‘Wow, there’s really potential here.’ ”
The Florida group still has an agreement in place with the Troy Redevelopment Group, but Ekstrom said he hopes to continue working with them on his alternative.
Ekstrom, with the help of the Keene-based Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, applied for and received a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to perform a feasibility study, which is expected to be completed Dec. 1, he said.
“We’ll define the scope of the project, describe components and assumptions about inputs and outputs, developing some research on the kinds of markets that are appropriate, energy required, cost, physical upgrades that would have to happen, and likely revenue projections,” he said.
Once that’s completed, Ekstrom would need about another $30,000 to take those findings to an independent consultant to verify the numbers and projections are accurate, he said.
“We’d like to drop that into people’s laps as soon as possible,” he said.
Keene officials are looking for a partner on a similar project for its transfer station, where they operate a methane-powered generator that produces more power than the facility uses. Keene would like to harness that excess power to create an aquaculture operation to grow vegetables and fish, with the fish waste being used to fertilize the produce, similar to Ekstrom’s proposal in Troy. Both projects are receiving input from Don McCormick, the former president of Carbon Harvest, LLC. That company had agreed to partner with Keene on its project before going bankrupt, leading to McCormick’s resignation.
McCormick could not be reached for comment on the Troy project Saturday.
Ekstrom was first drawn to the property because of its history, he said.
“The initial motivation of course is to not lose this great sort of resource that the town of Troy has really grown up around,” he said. “This idea that the town was really based on a type of technology that defined America through the 19th century, which changed new England from a farming society to an industrial society.”
But as the U.S. continues to transition into a “post-industrial society,” Ekstrom said, the larger motivation behind this project is forward thinking.
“To make this site, and the town of Troy, frankly, viable into the 21st Century … we need to produce more food, and more sustainably, (because) trucking lettuces and other things 3,000 miles across country to serve this region seems insane to us,” he said.
When Ekstrom learned that of all food consumed in the Monadnock Region, only about 10 percent is produced locally, it only solidified his feelings on the need for such a project, he said.
Upton believes it’s exactly what Troy and the region need.
“It’s a very exciting project,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for a nicer project in that it’s a clean project. We’re all very optimistic. Everything that he checked out on the study looked like we could forge ahead.”
“It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s what New England in the 21st century is going to be; farming indoors, and shipping it shorter distances. It’s a plus all the way around, and it’s the direction that industry in America has to go in.”
Correction, Nov. 11, 2013
Posted: Monday, November 11, 2013 12:00 pm by Kyle Jarvis
Troy Mills was owned by the Ripley family of Troy and never changed hands until it went out of business. That point was incorrectly stated in a report Sunday.