Architect sought for plaster repair at historic meeting house

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BELLOWS FALLS — The town of Rockingham is going ahead with plans to repair the historic plaster in the 1787 Rockingham Meeting House.

The deadline for architects to submit proposals for the plaster repair work is Wednesday.

Gary Fox, director of development for the town, said Tuesday the town already has $60,000 on hand for the plaster work, and the work would be phased over several years so the town could pay for it in stages.

Fox said the town established a capital reserve fund last year to set aside money for repairs and maintenance at the meeting house, which is not just a state historic site but a national historic landmark.

He said as far as he knew, the plaster is original to the building, which was built from 1787 to 1801.

He said there are only small areas where the plaster needs to be replaced, but most of the ceiling needs to be reattached to the wooden lathe.

The building has no running water, electricity or heat and is inaccessible in the winter months, which might make the repairs more complicated.

Fox said town officials, and members of the Rockingham Historic Preservation Committee, relied entirely on the "best practices" established by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

He said the $60,000 already on hand includes two $20,000 appropriations made at March Town Meeting, and a $20,000 grant from the state. He said he expects the town will continue to fund meeting house repairs at a rate of about $20,000 a year. There is a list of other repairs needed at the building, but the plaster job is the most important.

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The latest estimate of the extent of the plaster work needed is in the $115,000 to $125,000 range, but Fox said the new architect will come up with a firm figure. A 2005 assessment had placed the cost at about $100,000.

The project will go out to bid to qualified plaster restoration specialists in November and December, and the town will award the plaster contract in January 2020. Work is expected to start on May 1, 2020, and be completed by Oct. 1, 2020.

The consulting architect will oversee the plastering job, as well as help draw up bid documents and evaluate the various bids.

Fox said the balcony in the historic meeting house has been closed for several years because of concerns about the plaster. He said the plaster moves every time someone walks in the balcony, and the decision was made to close the balcony until the plaster could be repaired. Only the ceilings in the building, including the ceilings of the main sanctuary and the ceiling underneath the balconies, have to be repaired. The plaster walls are in good shape and don't need major repair.

Fox said the repair strategy involves cleaning out any plaster dust and then injecting an adhesive into the cracks so that the plastic re-adheres to the lathe.

He expects the balcony work will be done first, so that the entire meeting house can be used — either for concerts, meetings or weddings.

The award of the architectural contract will be made no later than Oct. 1, Fox said, and will be a joint decision by himself, Everett Hammond, the town's public works director, and Susan Reing, the town's historic preservation coordinator.

According to the request for proposals, the architect will solicit plastering bids for the project to be done all at once or over three years.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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