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Epping officials narrow scope of Watson Academy repairs

Union Leader Correspondent

July 31. 2013 8:35PM

EPPING — The town has narrowed the scope of the repair work needed at Watson Academy to repair damages that officials said was caused by last year’s 4.0 earthquake.

Selectmen will seek bids on the project through Aug. 16.

The historic building on Academy Avenue was ordered to close last October after town officials discovered damage that some believe was caused, at least in part, by the earthquake that was centered in Maine but was felt in many parts of New Hampshire.

The building, built in 1883, housed the town’s recreation department and was also used by groups for community activities. They have been forced to relocate because the building remains closed.

According to the town, the repair project will include restoring the original floor alignment and excavating and reconstructing the footings on suitable material with proper drainage.

Some beams in the basement may have been permanently deformed and may need to be reinforced with steel or engineered lumber.

The repairs were recommended in a recent report prepared by Epping resident Charlie Goodspeed, a civil engineering professor at the University of New Hampshire, and contractor Chris Levesque.

The two inspected the structural damage May 3 along with members of the fire department, board of selectmen and code enforcement officials.

While the building’s exterior appears “fundamentally sound,” the report said the interior is “a bit more telling.”

“Upon entering one is immediately confronted with sloping in the floor.” the report said.

While the full extent of the earthquake’s possible impact on the building isn’t known, the report said the “magnitude of slope in the floors increased significantly during the short period of the earthquake.”

The report continued: “A quick inspection of the basement support structure running front to rear in the building, along building center line, appeared to have settled. The appearance was most visible in the floor joists bearing on the center support beam spanning between the columns. The floor joists had fresh cracks starting at the end of the joist bearing on the support beam and running longitudinally along the joists for a few feet toward the other end of the joists.”

The town hired SFC Engineering Partnership Inc. of Auburn to evaluate the building shortly after the quake. In its report, engineers suggested it could cost up to $300,000 to repair the building.

Selectmen voiced concern about spending too much money on the building and narrowed the scope of the repairs.

They now expect the project to come in with a much lower price tag, but it’s unclear whether the town’s insurer, Local Government Center, will cover any of the repairs.

LGC has indicated that it may not compensate the town for the damage, arguing that it wasn’t caused by the earthquake.

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