A representative from the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped has responded to the city’s attempt to seize the organization’s Belfast building on an outstanding sewer lien, e-mailing a rebuttal of the city’s position in the form of a letter addressed to another newspaper. Meanwhile, threatened legal action from the city remains on hold.

The city foreclosed on the Church Street property — formerly Crosby High School — in July over a matured sewer lien, and on Nov. 16 the City Council voted to pursue a court ruling that the building now belongs to the city.

City officials have said that the most recent action is being taken on behalf of the building, which they say has not been properly maintained, while they allege that NTWH has become increasingly remote and unresponsive to the city’s pleas.

A city-commissioned engineering study, conducted in July to determine if the building could be purchased and renovated as a performing arts or civic center, found that the building had water damage, ventilation problems and mold, among other defects.

Officials have framed the threat of legal action as an attempt to get the attention of representatives of NTWH, who they hope will make the necessary repairs to the building.

Last summer, city employees mowed the lawn around the old high school after reportedly making many failed attempts to get NTWH to do the work. City Attorney Bill Kelly recently said the city was concerned that the building, to which many residents have an emotional attachment, has begun to attract graffiti and could increasingly be the subject of vandalism.

Jack Barry, a longtime assistant to NTWH founder and Artistic Director Rick Curry, forwarded an e-mail to VillageSoup Nov. 24 rebutting the city’s portrayal of the situation. The e-mail was addressed to Bangor Daily News State Editor Rick Levasseur with a note suggesting that VillageSoup “might have interest in NTWH’s view of recent events relating to the Crosby School.”

Barry disputed the city’s characterization that NTWH has been out of contact, citing, among other interactions, the arrangements made this summer so the city could conduct the engineering study.

“Communication was so frequent I was on a first-name basis with [City Manager Joe Slocum’s] staff. During that time there was never a mention of an unpaid utility bill,” Barry wrote.

When he received his most recent call from Slocum, Barry said he thought it was to discuss a possible sale, but was shocked to hear that the city intended to foreclose on the property.

“NTWH has always been available to the city to discuss options for the building and remains so. We are proud of the work we have done in Belfast to assist the handicapped through a building we originally acquired from the city and significantly rehabilitated,” he said.

Barry pointed out that the engineering study’s bottom line estimate of $1.5 million in repairs and upgrades was based on the idea of converting the building to another use, and argued that the figure did not reflect the amount of money required to keep the building operating in its most recent capacity, as a venue for NTWH programs and performances.

“We are disappointed that our relationship with the city has turned into a legal one, rather than one of cooperation and trust,” he said. “We hope to work closely with the city of Belfast to regain that former relationship and work toward our common goal — to make Belfast the best city it can possibly be for its residents.”

Slocum told VilllageSoup Nov. 30 that many of Barry’s claims were correct, but said the latest action by the city hadn’t come out of the blue. The city almost foreclosed on the property last winter for the same reason, Slocum said, but NTWH paid the bare minimum at the 11th hour.

Slocum said he had talked to Barry in August, but had not heard from him since.

Barry, in his statement, claimed that NTWH recently paid all of the money due to the city, but Slocum said the city had not cashed the check.

Slocum said he was hoping to reestablish a dialogue with the absentee owner of the property, but expressed doubts that NTWH would return.

“I think it’s very clear to everybody that NTWH, after all of their pronouncements, is not coming back to operate the building,” Slocum said. “So now the question is, what’s its future going to be?”

VillageSoup has attempted to contact representatives from NTWH on numerous occasions (both via phone and e-mail) since the city began its recent pursuit of the building, but as of Nov. 30 had yet to hear from anyone with the organization. Attempts to obtain additional information from Barry, following his e-mail to VillageSoup, were similarly unsuccessful.

As of Nov. 30, the city had yet to take legal action. In a chance meeting on Nov. 17 — the day after the Council vote to pursue a judicial ruling on the title of the property — City Attorney Bill Kelly said he spoke with an attorney for NTWH — Mark Googins, of the Portland-based law firm Verrill Dana — who gave him assurances that the dispute could be settled out of court.

On Nov. 30, Kelly said nothing had changed since that time.