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Epping to evaluate quake damage to historic building

Union Leader Correspondent

October 24. 2012 9:57PM

EPPING - Selectmen have agreed to spend $9,600 to hire a structural engineering firm to assess damage discovered after last week's earthquake to the town's historic Watson Academy building.

At an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon, selectmen approved a contract with SFC Engineering Partnership Inc. of Auburn to evaluate the structural integrity of the 130-year-old building that housed the town's recreation center until Monday when it was ordered to close.

Numerous cracks were found in the wood-frame building, which town officials said appears to have shifted by about an inch. Several wooden support beams in the basement have also split and the bell tower is leaning.

'I think it's worse than we thought,' Selectman Jim McGeough said.

After reviewing the damage for the past two days, Linda McNair-Perry, senior structural engineer with SFC Engineering, said she couldn't determine yet that it was caused by the magnitude 4.0 earthquake that jolted much of the state for nearly 10 seconds on Oct. 16.

The town ordered the building closed on Monday while engineers assess the damage.

Based on the damage, McNair-Perry said the building has been 'yellow tagged,' meaning the public shouldn't be allowed in the building and access should be restricted.

After the evaluation, the engineering firm will prepare a report that will outline the findings and make recommendations for general repairs.

Selectmen made no decisions on what to do with the building once the report is finished.

Selectman Tom Gauthier said he thinks any proposal seeking money for repairs should be decided by voters at town meeting.

Selectman Dianne Gilbert said she supported spending the money on the engineering report, but questioned whether it would be worth investing a large amount of money to fix it, given its age and overall condition.

'I personally don't think we're ever going to be able to occupy it again,' said Selectmen Chairman Karen Falcone.

Town Administrator Greg Dodge said it appears unlikely that the town's insurance would cover the damage.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and selectmen acknowledged that it has historic value to the town and some of its residents who once attended school in the building, which was built in 1883.

With Watson Academy now closed, children who used it for before- and after-school programs and other activities have relocated to space in the schools behind the building.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at

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