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.]