Engineer: Brooks Academy Foundation In Need Of Stabilization

By: William F. Galvin

The Brooks Academy foundation is in need of repair. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The engineer doing the assessment on the historic Brooks Academy building foundation told the community preservation committee this week the building is unstable and major intervention is needed.

The committee is weighing a request for Community Preservation Act funds to reconstruct the historic brick foundation wall holding up the building, but there are other questions and costs being considered for the project, such as whether a basement should be installed while the work is being done. The initial application filed with the committee carried a request for $785,000, but it has been revised to $1,150,000 for the full basement.

John Wathne P.E. of Construction North Consulting Engineers of Salem, who was retained to assess the condition of the building, told the committee that to reconstruct the existing foundation would require digging down four feet beneath the building. Brooks Academy Museum Commission Chair David Spitz said there are strong sentiments among town officials to go to eight feet and create a full basement beneath the building. That was a recommendation from BIA Studio, an architectural firm hired to conduct an assessment of the building, which recognized the need for more space for storage of historic documents.

Brooks Academy was constructed by Sidney Brooks in 1844 to house the Pine Grove Seminary. Over the years the building has served as a private and public school, and the town-owned structure is now the home of the Harwich Historical Society and Brooks Academy Museum. An addition that included a small basement was built in 1927.

The building is considered one of the historic jewels of Harwich Center.

Wathne, whose company specializes in historic preservation projects, provided the committee with a detailed description of the foundation’s condition. The footing beneath the brick foundation was created from stones and lime-based mortar, and dirt and roots served to hold it in place. The brick and stone was used above grade; a 10-by-10-foot sill beam would be used to stabilize the building.

Back then rounded beach stones that were more like ball bearings were used by builders for holding up the brick. Over the years water entered cracks in the brick and freezing and thawing caused the current conditions.

“This problem is all the way down to the bottom and you need to do major intervention to this,” Wathne told the committee. “It’s an unstable support.”

CPC member John Ketchum raised issues about the $1,150,000 request, noting that the total cost is estimated at $1,263,290. Spitz said ta previously approved article contained $115,000 that would be applied to the project. Spitz also said Town Engineer Griffin Ryder requested a 25 percent contingency be added. The request is based on credible estimates, he said, but added additional engineering can be done before town meeting to narrow the cost; 85 percent of the information should be prepared by town meeting. The committee does not want to engage in an engineering contract until they have the community preservation committee’s funding support, he said.

CPC member Joseph McParland asked about other funding sources. Spitz said he would be filing a grant application the next day with the Cultural Facilities for Capital Fund for $250,000, and there is a March deadline for a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, which could provide $50,000 to $100,000, if approved.

This is not the only project where the commission will be seeking funding for Brooks Academy, CPC Chair David Nixon said. Spitz agreed, noting it could cost between $2 million and $3 million for the foundation and basement, future installation of an ADA compliant elevator and to stabilize the columns at the front of the building.

CPC member Robert Doane suggested his committee approve the funding request made by the BAMC for $1,150,000 so the local support could be included in the Cultural Facilities Capital Fund grant application to be filled the following day.

When the CPC supported the $130,000 article for BAMC two years ago, it required the funds to be used first to look at the foundation’s condition, said CPC member Mary Maslowski. This is a town building and town money will be used whether it is through the capital plan or a CPC project, Maslowski said. The town just spent a lot of money on the historic Brooks Free Library, she added.

“If we don’t use CPC funds we will be using taxpayers dollars,” she said. “Certainly this building is one of the gems left in town. We’ve lost The Exchange building, kitty-corner to it.”

But Ketchum raised questions about the money available to fund this and other projects. Finance Director Carol Coppola identified $2,790,501 available to spend this year, and while 10 percent each must be designated for historic preservation, community housing, and open space, $1,106,642, is in an undesignated fund account that can be applied to any of the three categories and recreation.

The CPC committee agreed to hold off on a recommendation on the foundation funding until there is a clearer picture on other requests and funding priorities.