Five years ago, as part of the half-million restoration extravaganza, the town received a professional estimate of the heating cost of a renovated Brewster Hall. The official figure was about 9,000 gallons of oil. The engineer suggested two boilers and a 2,000 gallon tank “in case deliveries were interrupted for a few weeks”.
Most of the building was not going to be insulated, and of course those old historic windows had to stay. Several years later, on their second attempt, the new architect tried to tell us that old buildings are more energy efficient than new ones. Eventually, they brought in Building Science Corporation to quell the skeptics. Although there were some recommendations, the fact is that none of them have ever been incorporated into any plans. At best the old windows would get inside storm windows, and the historic crumbling plaster walls would get less than half the insulation that would be required by the minimum building code in any other building.
I bring all this up because there is a reason why the old auditorium has a false ceiling hiding the vaulted trussed ceiling: It’s very expensive to heat, and near impossible to make comfortable. A few years ago, I visited the similar building in Merrimac, MA. In talking to the people working there, I was told that they hardly ever use their hall for that very reason.
So now we see that the Friends are offering the place to all kinds of groups in town. In a letter published by a prominent member of the Friends and Town Hall Restoration Committee last week, we see that they plan to offer the space for free. That’s nice, just send us all the bill for 50 gallons of oil to heat the place for that Clearlakes Chorale rehearsal. Great Waters needs a space for 60 people to meet? Let’s just turn up that thermostat and heat 120,000 cubic feet of auditorium. Never mind that they only need less than 10% of that for 75 people.
The Friends will argue that they are going to be able to close off a smaller space. I don’t think so. Not if they intend to expose that cavernous ceiling. But not to worry. As the people sit there shivering in February, we can get a state historian to come down and tell them that’s all part of the historic experience. That’s the way these old buildings are. You’re either freezing or the steam heat is driving you out. Ventilation was provided by the zillion holes in the shell and by opening those huge windows. Sure, we can have a sophisticated modern system installed, but it’s going to burn oil like it’s 1955 and then never really get as comfortable as a modern building like the Kingswood Performing Arts Center that would cost much less to heat on any given winter night at twice the size.
Nobody ever seems to bring this stuff up. Maybe because the people that are controlling the conversation don’t really care.