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Earthquake casualty? Cracks force closure of Epping's historic recreation building

Union Leader Correspondent

October 23. 2012 12:39PM
The town of Epping has closed Watson Academy, which houses the Epping Recreation Department, after finding numerous cracks possibly related to last week's earthquake. (JASON SCHREIBER)

EPPING - A week after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake centered in southwestern Maine shook buildings around New Hampshire, the town has shut down a 129-year-old building that houses the recreation department after numerous cracks were discovered.

Town officials haven't confirmed that the damage to Watson Academy is from the earthquake, but they said it appears the building has shifted and may be unsafe.

'We don't know what we're dealing with,' town administrator Gregory Dodge said Tuesday as officials toured the building while awaiting the arrival of structural engineers to determine the extent of the damage and whether the building is safe to occupy.

Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Chapman issued an order Monday immediately closing the building at 17 Academy St., forcing the recreation department to temporarily move children in its after-school program to the cafeteria in the middle school located behind Watson Academy.

The damage wasn't noticed immediately after the earthquake, which struck at 7:12 p.m. on Oct. 16. The quake was centered near Hollis Center, Maine, and was felt throughout New England as it rattled many buildings and nerves for about 10 seconds. No major structural damage was reported.

Recreation director Nicole Bizzaro said she noticed a few cracks here and there in the building, but it was on Saturday when she discovered that a self-closing door was no longer shutting.

Dodge visited Watson Academy Monday with a worker who had installed restored windows in the building and noticed the cracks around doors and in corners and other problems, including large splits in wooden support beams in the basement and a second floor that appears to slope downward more than in the past.

While some cracks have existed for years as the building is old and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, town officials said there are obvious fresh cracks.

A fire investigator from the state Fire Marshal's Office was notified along with a fire protection and safety engineer.

'We will not allow anybody in the building until we know it's safe,' said Selectman Karen Falcone, board chairman.

The temporary closure will affect not only recreation activities but also nonprofit organizations that rent space in the building.

Town officials said they won't know if the town's insurance will cover the damage until a more thorough inspection is completed.

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