Repairing Abbot Hall Clock Tower Will Cost at Least $2.1 Million

Selectmen Chair Jackie Belf-Becker calls report 'sobering,' as board votes to place issue on the Town Meeting warrant.

Repairing Marblehead's trademark Abbot Hall bell tower will cost $2.1 million — and it may take most of 2014 to fix the extensive damage caused by weather over the last 137 years, the Board of Selectmen were told at their meeting Wednesday night.

And it could cost much more if the state Architectural Access Board does not grant variances, as it did with the Old Town House, that would require the town to make Abbot Hall more handicapped accessible. The AAB could require the town to make one or more of its three main entrances handicapped accessible, the Selectmen were told.

After only a few questions and comments, the Selectmen voted unanimously to place the repairs for the clock tower on the Town Meeting warrant this spring. Selectman James Nye was not present.

'A Sobering Report'

Wendall Kalsow, an architect with McGinley Kaslow and Associates, and John Wathne, president of Structures North consulting engineers, gave the Selectmen what chairman Jackie Belf-Becker "a sobering report."

The architect and engineer made a thorough inspection of the tower on the coldest day of the year using a crane that lifted them to the top of the structure.

The damages they found greatly concerned them. Wood, especially on the clock faces, is rotting and needs to have the hands and numbers removed to allow for painting. Water has seeped behind bricks, dislodging them. The shingle stones need to be removed and fixed. Steel beams are rusting. And the entire tower has to be repointed.

"Things are somewhat dire," Wathne said. "You would not want to put (the repairs) off."

He said the tower is not "tumbling down," but the damage is nearing "the tipping point" where parts of the tower might have to be removed and replaced.

Selectmen Harry Christensen asked rhetorically, "How can we justify spending $2.1 million" on the clock tower when the entire Abbot Hall is assessed at $3.2 million? "We know it has to be fixed. It is just hard to justify."

Kalsow responded that Abbot Hall, like many public buildings, is "dramatically under-assessed."

The largest expense was for masonry repair at almost $900,000. Roofing, carpentry and painting would cost $239,000. And repairing ferrous metals would cost $87,000. 

Kaslow said Abbot Hall meets the federal standard for access with the lower floor access. But it does not appear to meet the state's Architectural Access Board rules, the architect said.

In addition to making the entrances more accessible, the interior of the building would also have to be made handicapped accessible.

Selectmen Judy Jacobi recalled that the same board granted several variances to the town in making the repairs to the Old Town House.

Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said the town got most of the variances it requested on the Old Town House. "We hope the same will happen with Abbot Hall," he said.

Here is a complete list of the estimated costs:

1. Site Prep -- $157,000
2. Roofing, Carpentry, Painting -- $239,000
3. Masonry -- $891,000
4. Ferrous Metals -- $87,000
5. Rough Carpentry -- $27,500
6. Contingencies, Fencing, etc. -- $425,000
7. Performance Bonds -- $36,514
8. Administration -- $270,000

The total is $2,136,082.

[Editor's note: We've added a complete list of estimated costs since this item was initially posted.]

ben young February 14, 2013 at 11:46 AM
I'm sure there will be many people in the community who wil be prepared to donate money to the repairs in exchange for being included in a brass plaque to mark the renovation
ben tower February 14, 2013 at 01:46 PM
I'm happy to contribute but why haven't these repairs done over the decades?
Ray DePaula February 14, 2013 at 02:01 PM
We as a community will come together to help with funds in sure. To justify fixing the tower has to be done as its part of our towns heritage Abbot Hall is Marblehead. As is the Hooper Mansion and every iconic town building.
Don McElroy February 14, 2013 at 02:38 PM
The listed repairs add up to approx $1.2 million. Is that the correct estimate or is the "headline listed estimate of $2.1 million accurate. If it is 2.1 million, what are the other costs?
John Buba February 14, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Ben is exactly on point. No one in town wants to see Abbot Hall crumble. However how is it that once again an important town building is allowed to fall into such disrepair - in the very building that the Selectmen meet 25 times a year? This is just another example of the vicious cycle of Neglect -> Crisis -> Override for extra taxes - -> then back to complacent Neglect. Call town hall today 781-631-0000 and let them know that you want Abbot hall fixed WITHOUT AN OVERRIDE. Let’s stop rewarding negligent behavior by our town officials.
Lefty Winger February 14, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Why not mimmick Obamacracy - make the Neckies pay for it. They are the top 5%. Either that or raise property taxes on houses assessed at over a million and jack up the mooring permit fees on moorings that have boats over 25 feet. Commercial fishing vessels would be excluded of course
Leni Valens February 14, 2013 at 03:35 PM
You are right Don, sounds like fuzzy math to me. Maybe we should send Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown back to the past and have them build a stronger clock tower...After all you cant have Marblehead without an overpriced iconic brick building with a clock tower on it. How will we ever know what time it is???
Don McElroy February 14, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Leni - I wasn't suggesting anything, just looking for the info.. i thought it might just be a typo, reversing the digits - 2.1 vs 1.2
Walter Horan February 14, 2013 at 05:12 PM
I agree with Don. The listed repairs add up to $1.2 million. Perhaps the Patch or one of our Selectmen could answer Don's question??
Chris Helms (Editor) February 14, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Hi Don, we'll check. If anyone on this thread gets the answer before we do, please feel free to post it.
Chris Helms (Editor) February 14, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Hey everyone, here is the complete list of the estimated costs. I'll add these to the text of the story as well: 1. Site Prep -- $157,000 2. Roofing, Carpentry, Painting -- $239,000 3. Masonry -- $891,000 4. Ferrous Metals -- $87,000 5. Rough Carpentry -- $27,500 6. Contingencies, Fencing, etc. -- $425,000 7. Performance Bonds -- $36,514 8. Administration -- $270,000 The total is $2,136,082.
Peter Lake, LAKE Real Estate February 15, 2013 at 05:21 AM
What is "administration" -- for $270,000?
Citizen 113 February 21, 2013 at 03:51 PM
$239k Carpentry & painting on a brick tower? $270K "Admin" for a project lasting less than a year ("...most of 2014...")? $425k for fencing?? Who is checking the reasonableness of these estimates??


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