Published July 31. 2013 4:00AM Updated July 31. 2013 8:01PM
Groton - Pfizer Inc. has stripped the inside of the first section of Building 118, the company's sprawling research headquarters off Eastern Point Road, and was granted permission Monday to shut off sprinklers to proceed with interior demolition work.
Groton City Building Official Carlton Smith said Tuesday that he and the fire marshal visited "Building N," a 49,000-square-foot building at the rear of the 118 complex on Friday, and granted the company permission Monday to shut down the sprinkler system.
Smith said the building is empty of all combustibles, including carpeting.
"That gives them the opportunity to put some of their smaller equipment in to do their demolition of walls, ceiling tiles ... cabinetry," Smith said. "And I think that will probably go on for a week."
He said he expects to hear from Pfizer, after the interior work is done, about the timetable for razing the exterior walls.
In a statement sent by email Tuesday, the company said: "Pfizer is working with the city to move forward with demolition in a manner and timeline as outlined in the recently issued permit and in accordance with all federal, state and local laws and regulations. Prep work has begun and demolition will continue into 2014."
Pfizer submitted its initial demolition permit application on April 17, then provided additional paperwork to the city on June 5, including a timeline. The company planned "structural demolition" of the first section of Building 118 from Aug. 19 until Sept. 27, according to that document.
The company will use Manafort Bros. Inc. of Plainville as the demolition contractor for the $2.19 million project, the documents said.
Lian Obrey, chairwoman of the Groton Economic Development Commission, said she believes it hasn't sunk in that the complex is coming down, but it'll hit people when they see the first crane.
"I think it will be a bit of a punch coming at people," she said.
Obrey said she believed Building 118 would have been a perfect place to expand the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus, but this would have required a substantial investment from the state.
She said the town also could have offered Pfizer two years of no taxes on the building to give local representatives more time to find a suitable tenant or buyer. She said the company was uncomfortable with sharing its space. Stu Lichter, president and senior managing partner of the California-based Industrial Realty Group, offered to purchase Building 118, but the deal fell through.
The community is coping with other economic hits as well. About 1,300 Department of Defense civilian employees work at the Naval Submarine Base, and 750 of them are furloughed. Some perform maintenance, support and administrative duties while others help run the child care, bachelor housing, Navy Exchange and recreation programs. Senior security and fire department leaders in administrative roles, such as the fire chief, are also furloughed.
Obrey said Groton will feel the loss of Building 118 financially and psychologically. On the budget side, the decision will cost the town about $2 million in annual real estate taxes. She said the decision could also affect the psyche of the community because so many have ties to the three major employers, including Pfizer. She said it's time residents take a more active role in making things better.
"They need to be going to meetings. They need to be asking questions. They need to be saying, 'How do we do something about this?'" she said. "There has to be some passion on the part of the people who live in this town."