July 2, 2022

Church Seeks Permit For Demolition of Highland Hall, Former Elementary School Turned Nursing Home

ESSEX— Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church has applied for a permit to demolish Highland Hall, the 1920 building off Prospect Street that was the town’s first centralized elementary school.

The church, which acquired the abutting 2.5-acre parcel and 6,600-square-foot building for $750,000 in 2004, had previously proposed to demolish the building in 2006. But the parish was divided over the plan, and the proposed demolition drew objections from the Essex Historical Society led by the late Town Historian Donald Malcarne. Until now, the church had taken no steps to pursue demolition of the structure. Malcarne died in 2009.

Highland Hall was constructed in 1920, and served as the town’s first elementary school until Essex Elementary School opened in the Centerbrook section in 1952. It was converted into a nursing home that closed in the early 1990s. The building has been vacant for nearly two decades.

Building Official Keith Nolin said a newspaper legal notice published Wednesday allows 15 days, until Aug. 19, to file a written objection to the demolition. A written objection would invoke the town’s delay of demolition ordinance, approved by a 2004 town meeting at Malcarne’s urging, that would impose a 90-day delay in the demolition process. Nolin said if a written objection is not filed by Aug. 19, demolition could occur whenever the property owner is ready to proceed.

While church members had initially considered using the building for a religious school when the property was purchased in 2004, the parcel is now expected to be used for parking after the demolition.
Mary Ann Pleva, former president of the Essex Historical Society, said Wednesday she is uncertain whether the society will again submit a written objection to the proposed demolition. Pleva said she would like to see the building preserved, and noted that one or more private citizens could invoke the delay of demolition ordinance if the society does not. “It has a lot of history to it,” she said.

See related Letter to Editor:

Historic and Architectural Resource Survey Should be Made of Highland Hall