Well, not the whole sky, but if a couple of professionals are to be believed, the roof of Brewster Hall is about to fall.
I’ve resisted sensationalizing this issue, instead making discrete inquiries to the town, asking that they get a definitive determination of the status of the structural issues. So far, there is no indication that they are taking it seriously.
The story begins seven years ago when the Town Hall Restoration Committee was developing the $6.8 million showcase project. Part of it was the reinforcement of the roof with 13 tons of structural steel. At the time we were still hearing the “great bones” rhetoric and the structural work was explained as a “seismic upgrade”.
Four years later, in presenting the rehashed “phased” version of the prior year’s $4 million plan, the new architect John Grosvenor said that there was a roof issue with the “walls spreading” and that it had to be addressed within ten years. Here’s a post about that with a link to the video where he says it. (The statement starts at 17:50 into the video but the whole thing is an eye opener because this is the three year old rehashed, sliced and diced “phased” plan and cost estimate upon which the current proposal is based.)
This past summer, I decided to find out what was really going on, so I asked the town for a copy of the original structural engineer’s report. Turns out there wasn’t one. At least none that could be produced by the town or Structures North, the engineers that we paid for designing the reinforcement.
So in September the town asked NCA architects about Mr. Grosvenor’s assertions of a problem. NCA obtained a roof truss analysis from Structures North and Holly Grosvenor then told the town that based on the load diagram, she can’t understand why the roof hasn’t failed already. Here’s the email exchange.
Then in mid-October NCA received a proposal from Structures North to revisit the site, determine if there has been any deterioration in the conditions, and examine alternative solutions. They also said that there was a possibility that after re-examining the roof, they might recommend greater urgency.
The fee for this work would be $4,500 plus mileage. Holly Grosvenor recommended it be done ASAP.
So you might think that when a structural engineer and an architect who are intimately familiar with the building say that there may be a serious structural issue with the roof, and it would only cost $4,500 to get more information, somebody would take action.
Not so. As of late December, the Town Manager had not brought this up with the Board of Selectmen. He did, however, make the Friends aware of it. Here is a Nov 12 letter from Roger Murray to NCA where he inquires about it.
What’s interesting here is that Roger seems to be talking about the “wall spreading” issue that John Grosvenor brought up at the meeting three years ago. The repair for that issue involved a set of custom fabricated brackets that would be affixed to the ends of the trusses to better fasten them to the lower chord stress rods. What the structural engineers are talkling about now in their analysis is that the top chords of the trusses are overstressed and in danger of failing. That’s a completely different problem and requires 13 tons of structural steel to be installed. I do not see that anywhere in the estimates for either the $4 million project three years ago or the old spreadsheets that are the basis for the estimate of this new proposal.
It may be that Mr. Murray and the Friends are on top of this, but the question is how the Town Manager can have two qualified professionals raise a serious issue about the safety of the building and yet not inform the Selectmen, the public, or the employees who work in there. Moreover, why didn’t the Town Manager take it on himself to authorize the engineers to do the evaluation? My inquiries to him this week for an update have gone unanswered.
For Mr. Owen to work this issue privately with the Friends is completely inappropriate. The public has a right to know what is going on here. If the Friends paid the engineers to do the study so as to keep it out of the public view, that would be a violation of both the Right to Know law and the town’s policy of holding a public hearing to accept a gift valued at more than $1,000. Of greater importance is the conflict of interest that the Friends have between determining the basic safety and stability of the building and their efforts to convince the public to spend large sums of money restoring it.