Year after blaze, Timber Works rises from ashes

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Vermont Timber Works during reconstruction in January. Photo provided

A year ago this week, a fire in a dumpster outside Vermont Timber Works in North Springfield spread to the building destroying it in a massive blaze fueled by exploding propane and gas tanks inside the building. Just shy of a year later,  the company is back, housed in a rebuilt and improved home at its Fairbanks Road site.

On Friday, just before a ribbon cutting ceremony, co-owner Doug Friant gave a tour of the facility noting that the company had just moved back in and gotten back to producing timber frames. No sign of the fire remained, although the concrete floor that survived the fire looked rough, and ready for a resurfacing.

Timber Works co-owner Doug Friant with timbers that have been marked up for cutting joints.Photos by Shawn Cunningham

“The building is pretty much the same as before the fire,” said Friant, who commutes from his Londonderry home. The most notable changes are a loading dock that can serve as an assembly area for trusses at one end of the building and a redesigned office area at the other.

Friant said that when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the company altered the office layout on the fly to allow greater distancing. Pointing to the pocket doors between his office and that of co-owner Dan Kelleher, Friant said that the two have been in business together since shortly after they graduated the University of Vermont and always worked together in the same room. “This gives us the opportunity to work together and distance at the same time.”

Timberframer Colt Clary uses a chisel to hand cut a mortise

The company has orders to keep the 14- to 16-person crew at work although the large work spaces look empty. “We haven’t really even had time to set up yet,” said Friant

While Friant still bristles at the cost of permits and fees to “rebuild a building we already owned,” he was also quick to praise the Town of Springfield and the State of Vermont for their quick action in the permitting process and in inspections.

“The building is pretty much the same as before except it now has a sprinkler system,” said Friant. “If we had had that we wouldn’t have lost the building.” He noted that the insurance company paid to have it installed.

One thing the company lost that Friant misses is a 1915 Oliver bandsaw that was destroyed in the fire. “That was a beautiful piece of equipment,” says Friant.

Owners Doug Friant, left, and Dan Kelleher cut the ribbon to reopen the building

While the company has work in the queue, some projects it produced before the fire are still on site, under cover or wrapped in plastic. These include a large “wedding barn” that has not been delivered yet due to the pandemic and a timber frame destined for a site in Sonoma, Calif., which, Friant says, has had “one disaster after another.”

After the tour, with their employees looking on, Friant and Kelleher cut a ribbon to formally open the building, noting that because of the pandemic the celebration was smaller than they wished.

They thanked two and a half dozen contractors, suppliers, service companies and agencies who helped bring them back including the Springfield Fire Department, Winstanley — whose building the company used to continue work after the fire — the Town of Springfield and Springfield Regional Development Corp.


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