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Architect presents new approach to Brewster Hall renovation

Friends of Town Hall energized by "Seven to Save" listing

November 12, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall presented the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen with a new plan for the renovation of Brewster Hall, one that provides the same amount of space for a little more than half the cost.

Speaking for the Friends, Joyce Davis began the meeting with selectmen by getting their permission to place a holiday wreath on double doors that lead to the auditorium. She then gave them the details behind the addition of Brewster Hall to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance's "Seven to Save" list for 2009. The annual list identifies the state's seven most endangered historic properties, and the inclusion of Brewster Hall on the list reflected its "outstanding architectural significance" and the level of threat to the structure. Being on the list will help the Friends in their efforts to seek grants for the restoration of the building.

Davis then introduced John Grosvenor of Newport Collaborative Architects of Newport, R.I., who described himself as a seasonal resident who has fallen in love with Wolfeboro and wants to help save its Town Hall, which he considers its icon.

Grosvenor started by reviewing the assumptions he made in taking a new approach to the building's renovation. The project needed to make sure there was enough space for present and future needs, that the issue of mold in the basement be addressed, that all town employees currently in the building should stay there, and that the high cost of the original proposal be brought down substantially. The goal, he said, was to provide the most practical, energy-efficient facility for the town. He added that renovation, if done correctly, is always cheaper than new construction and lasts longer.

Newport Collaborative Architects (www.ncaarchitects.com) was founded in 1981 and has done more than 2,000 buildings, more than half of which were renovations/rehabilitations, including more than 100 historic properties. Grosvenor then reviewed, in a PowerPoint presentation, eight examples of historic property renovations:

- Potter School, an 1881 brick schoolhouse in Newport converted to seven residential condominiums;

- Castle Hill, an 1874 estate house in Newport converted to a hotel;

- The Exchange Building, originally built as a bank in 1865 in downtown Newport, converted to offices for his firm;

- The Belvedere, a 40,000 square foot brick building renovated for $156 a square foot in 2009;

- International Yacht Restoration School, a decayed shell of a 29,760 square foot building renovated in 2009 for $213 a square foot;

- Ashton Mill, a 197,000 square foot former mill renovated in 2006 for $120 a square foot;

- Pelham Court, a 7,500 square foot 2008 renovation completed for $133 a square foot; and

- Slatersville Mill, a 244,581 square foot 2007 renovation completed for $156 a suare foot.

Based on these examples, Grosvenor said he estimated Brewster Hall could be renovated for about 40 percent less than the original $6.7 million proposal, or from $3.1 million to $3.5 million. He said brick and stone building materials have nearly unlimited renewability, and since town government is expected to be around for a long time, a town hall should be built to last. A 1999 General Services Administration study found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27 percent less than modern buildings, and, he said, buildings built before 1920 are actually more energy-efficient than most buildings built since then. Finally he stated that it takes about 65 years for a new, green, energy-efficient office building to recover the energy lost in demolishing an existing building and "let's face it: most new buildings aren't designed to last anywhere near 65 years."

Grosvenor then presented a preliminary plan for a Brewster Hall renovation that produced 12,590 square feet using two floors in the main building and annex and only part of the existing basement for IT facilities and storage.

A cross section of the plan is shown in the accompanying illustration, one of six visuals included in the presentation.

The key differences from the original McGinley Kaslow plan are: 1) not excavating the basement for working space but adapting existing basement space for limited use; and 2) making better use of the second floor space in the main building to create additional office space. Central to the second floor plan is to reduce the space currently occupied by the auditorium by 1,500 square feet, which would reduce the seating from a capacity of 400 people to 200. That 1,500 square feet would be rebuilt on two levels, producing a third floor space and making 3,000 square feet of office space out of what was 1,500 feet of auditorium.

Grosvenor distributed copies of the PowerPoint presentation to the board.

Selectmen's Chair Dave Senecal thanked Grosvenor and the Friends for the presentation and said he assumed that the Friends would continue to refine the plan. Davis said they plan to meet with the Energy Committee soon.

Selectman Linda Murray thanked the Friends for carrying on their efforts to preserve Brewster Hall.

Senecal then announced that a plan for potential town offices on Lehner Street that he and Selectman Marge Webster had been working on was not ready to present that evening but will be presented at the next selectmen's meeting in two weeks, on Nov. 18.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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