Engineers to assess Epping's Watson Academy
At an emergency meeting last week, selectmen voted to spend $9,600 to hire SFC Engineering Partnership Inc. of Auburn. The company will assess the damage to the 130-year-old building and provide a report to the town outlining the structural issues and recommendations for making repairs.
Watson Academy has served as the town's recreation center for several years, but it was forced to close last week after several cracks and other structural problems were found in the days following a magnitude 4.0 earthquake on Oct. 16. The quake was centered in southwestern Maine, but shook many buildings in New Hampshire and other parts of New England.
Engineers have not yet confirmed the quake caused the damage, but officials have said that some of the cracks and splits found in large wooden support beams in the basement were fresh.
The recreation office and other activities, including before and after-school programs, have since moved to classrooms at the elementary and middle schools.
"They've been given permission to stay as long as they need to stay. There's really no inconvenience as far as that goes," said Selectman Karen Falcone, board chairman.
The office for Recreation Director Nicole Bizzaro has been moved to the town hall while the Senior Citizens Club is holding its meetings at the fire department.
Other organizations that used the building have been forced to relocate as well, including Families First, which has moved to Exeter's recreation center, Bizzaro said.
Some preschool programs have been put on hold because of the lack of facilities, she said.
After the report from the structural engineers is complete, selectmen may draft a warrant article proposing repairs to the building.
While some officials aren't keen on spending a lot of money to repair the aging building, Falcone said the decision should rest with voters.
"It's going to be the people who make the call when all is said and done," she said.
Watson Academy was built in 1883 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building is now "yellow tagged" and access is restricted to engineers are others allowed in by the town.
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