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Plan to repair earthquake-damaged Epping hall on hold

Union Leader Correspondent

September 17. 2013 10:11PM
Epping's historic Watson Academy in Epping remains closed after last October's earthquake. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

EPPING — Selectmen on Monday halted a plan to repair damage to Watson Academy until a more comprehensive engineering study can be done on the historic building to make sure that it's safe.

The decision was made days after the town's insurer, Local Government Center, informed the town that it would offer some money to make repairs, but only after engineers take a closer look at the building and sign off on the repair plan.

The building that once housed the town's recreation department and other community groups has been closed since damage was discovered after an earthquake last October.

Selectmen narrowed the scope of the repairs in recent months and sent the project out to bid. Two proposals were returned a few weeks ago, both with a price tag of around $40,000.

The project would include restoring the original floor alignment and excavating and reconstructing the footings on suitable material with proper drainage. Basement beams also appear to have been deformed and may need to be reinforced with steel or engineered lumber.

Selectmen hoped to award the bid at Monday's board meeting to move forward with the project, but decided a more complete engineering study would be needed first.

Fire Chief Don DeAngelis urged selectmen to move ahead with the engineering study from a safety standpoint, especially since the building is a place of public assembly.

"We really don't know everything that's wrong with the building," he said, adding, "The building is not safe. We don't know entirely what it's going to take to make it safe."

The town spent nearly $10,000 on an engineering study immediately after the quake, but SFC Engineering Partnership Inc. of Auburn — the firm hired to prepare the report — indicated that a more thorough study would be needed.

SFC also estimated that it would likely cost between $207,000 and $303,000 to make all of the necessary repairs.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and selectmen acknowledged that it has historic value to the town.

A town committee formed to work on the Watson Academy project brought in other engineers who inspected the building and determined that the repairs could be made for far less than what SFC Engineering proposed.

Town Administrator Gregory Dodge said LGC denied the damage was caused by the earthquake, but town officials and some engineers who inspected the building disagree. Still, LGC is willing to help with some of the repair costs.

The latest delay didn't sit well with members of the Watson Academy committee, who were hoping to see the work done soon to allow the building to reopen.

"I would say I'm really getting frustrated," said Carol Clapp, the committee's co-chairman.

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