Millsboro council opts for bids in demo, possible rebuild of historic grist mill

Millsboro town council has voted to seek bids for demolition and possible rebuild of Warren’s Mill, the last standing grist mill in the Millsboro area. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — What stands as the last known standing grist mill in the greater Millsboro area may be coming down — hopefully not on its own.

Millsboro town council Monday night authorized bid solicitation for demolition of Warren’s Mill and possible rebuild of the historic structure along Betts Pond Road.

In spring 2017 the town began exploring the possibility of restoring the mill, utilizing a hydro-electric generation component.

At present, the most pressing concern is the stability of the structure, which stands a short distance from the two-lane state roadway that separates the mill from Betts Pond.

A preliminary assessment more than a year ago by Duffield Associates, the town’s consultant, indicated the structure sheathed in clapboard with a gambrel roof may be structurally in danger of collapsing.

“It’s going to fall down. It’s not going to wait a year … a good heavy snow, it’s gone,” said Millsboro councilman John Thoroughgood. “I’d like to see us put it out on bid for demo, to at least get it down to the concrete foundation. Then we are safe. And then we build it as we want to.”

Council voted 7-0 to move forward with bid solicitation.

“I personally think that is a compromise because at least the budget impact is more contained. At least the building is down,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “Next fiscal year you could decide if you wanted to rebuild.”

According to Mr. Hudson, an informal quote for demolition and a rebuild was about $200,000. He was not sure if that included any permitting costs.

“I can appreciate the concern about the building falling down,” said Mr. Hudson. “It is my understanding it is the last standing mill in the area. So, it has some real historic value. Even though it’s not terribly old – I think it’s only about 100 years old – it has a lot of historic value.”

“It looks like the roof is starting to cave in. I know the chief (Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway) doesn’t want to get the phone call of there being an old mill in the roadway,” said Mr. Hudson. “Based on the initial engineering assessment, it sounds like that is the preferred path moving forward.”

It is hoped that a portion of gray wood from the original structure, built in the early 1900s, could be salvaged and reused if council opts for a rebuild. During demolition, efforts could be made to salvage, and catalogue wood removed for reuse in a rebuild at the site.

“I am assuming that some of it would be stored, some of it reclaimed and reused. That would be a question for the experts,” said Mr. Hudson.

Mr. Thoroughgood said demolition would at least get it down to the concrete foundation, the bulk of which he says is salvageable. “The foundation looks good, except that one corner,” Mr. Thoroughgood said.

Councilman Brad Cordrey asked about installing barricade to blunt any vehicle access once the building in taken down.

“I would envision that you would have to put barrier fencing up there,” said Millsboro Public Works Director Ken Niblett.

Council’s first step is bid solicitation.

“We’ll put it out for bid. The bids will come in,” said Mr. Hudson. “Then at that point council will have to decide: ‘Do we want to move forward now or wait until budget time?’ It could be by the time that bids come in, are reviewed, and analyzed that we are into the winter if not the spring. So, the timing may work out. So at least we are getting the legwork done.”

Restoring the mill

In discussion to refurbish Warren’s Mill to preserve a piece of history and generate electricity, initial cost estimates ranged from $321,000 to $384,00 depending on type of turbine and extent of site modification required to install equipment, according to Duffield’s assessment.

Based on seasonal water flow, energy power potential is projected at somewhere between 6 kilowatts in August and September to 14 kilowatts in March. That translates to an estimated annual retail value of electricity at approximately $6,200, based on the rate Millsboro is charged by Delmarva Power. That, in turn, would mean an approximate 60-year return on investment.

Two options for power generation presented by Duffield representatives included a vertical turbine similar to the one used in the mill, and an Archimedes screw that is efficient but would deviate from the mill’s history.

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