Renovation work set to take the next step

The second floor of the Mason Town Hall, which served as a cafeteria for the Mason Grange. The white plaster walls were recently dismantled for a better look at the roof supports.

The second floor of the Mason Town Hall, which served as a cafeteria for the Mason Grange. The white plaster walls were recently dismantled for a better look at the roof supports. PHOTO COURTESY JIM DORE

The crawlspace under Mason Town Hall.

The crawlspace under Mason Town Hall. PHOTO COURTESY JIM DORE

Plaster walls on Mason Town Hall’s second floor were taken down to allow full access to the rafters.

Plaster walls on Mason Town Hall’s second floor were taken down to allow full access to the rafters. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Windows that had to be replaced were removed, although some are able to be restored. The second-floor fire escape was also removed.

Windows that had to be replaced were removed, although some are able to be restored. The second-floor fire escape was also removed. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

The upper floor of the Mason Town Hall, which was once a cafeteria space. The floor is held up by the ceiling by the steel rods in the center of the room.

The upper floor of the Mason Town Hall, which was once a cafeteria space. The floor is held up by the ceiling by the steel rods in the center of the room. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

This corner of the Mason Town Hall once had a holding cell used by the Police Department.

This corner of the Mason Town Hall once had a holding cell used by the Police Department. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Removing the plaster walls and ceiling allows access to the rafters.

Removing the plaster walls and ceiling allows access to the rafters. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

The carpeted area marks where the small holding cell used by the Mason Police Department used to be.

The carpeted area marks where the small holding cell used by the Mason Police Department used to be. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

The emergency exit was restored early on in the renovation process to conform to the state fire code.

The emergency exit was restored early on in the renovation process to conform to the state fire code. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

When work begins inside, this white tile ceiling will be removed and the original plaster ceiling will be restored.

When work begins inside, this white tile ceiling will be removed and the original plaster ceiling will be restored. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

By CAMERON CASHMAN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 05-14-2024 12:04 PM

Mason has begun work on the third initial phase of its ongoing Town Hall renovation project, which when complete will ensure the structural integrity of the building and allow the town to reopen it for use – possibly by the end of the year – as it starts work on specific renovations inside the building.

“The building was closed in 2023 because of the structural issues – it was a safety concern,” explained Jim Dore, the chair of the Mason Town Hall Renovation Committee. “So our goal on the renovation committee is to first fix the structural issues so we can start using it again – after that, there’s other work to do.”

The main structural concerns involve the foundation and the roof, both of which have experienced excess stress over the years. Specifically, runoff water from the hill behind Town Hall had flooded the crawlspace beneath the building, the result of a drainage issue. The crawlspace had to be dug out and drained before the issue could be fixed. This allowed for a closer look at the supports in the crawlspace, many of which had shifted or eroded over the years – causing the first floor to bend and warp unnaturally.

The roof and upper floor are similarly warped. The upper floor, which is supported by the roof, was converted into a cafeteria by the Mason Grange in 1898. In order to install a new ceiling and plaster walls, the Grange removed supports that were connected to the crossbeams, which had provided additional stability to the upper floor. The upper floor once also held a holding cell that was used by the Mason police.

According to Dore, the jail cell, plaster walls and ceiling added about 8,000 pounds of excess weight on the upper floor, causing it and the roof to bow.

The removal of the excess weight at the end of April marked the completion of the second phase, and Dore said this will allow the town’s contracted engineer, Annette Dey, to get a closer look at the trusses supporting the rafters.

“Now that she can see them, she can do a real analysis on what needs to be done to fix it – we’re hoping,” Dore said.

Dore added that taking down the cafeteria installed by the Grange was the best option to determine how best to move forward. Not only did it remove the excess weight and open the roof up for closer inspection, but since it wasn’t a part of the original construction, there were no historical restrictions. Dore emphasized the importance of historical preservation, and noted that it was important to consider when receiving state funds.

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Underneath the building, Dore said that all of the original wooden piers that originally supported the first floor were in good condition, and although some had shifted or sunken into the ground, they could be reset for continued use. There were additional wooden piers added later, in the early 1990s according to Dore, but those had worn down and needed to be replaced. Dore said they are planning to add additional support to the floor in the crawlspace with concrete blocks. He noted that it will ensure structural integrity and allow the building to be reopened, but that the floor may remain warped.

“It’s going to be corrected somewhat, but engineers advised against getting things square and level,” Dore explained. Since the building has settled into its current position, “it might break something,” he said. “It won’t be perfect, but usable.”

The final part of the third phase, which Dore said will be done later this year, is to repair existing windows or replace ones that had to be removed. Once those are sealed and the building’s structural integrity ensured, it can be reopened for public use, hopefully by the end of the year – although interior renovations will continue into the future.

Right now, the kitchen is on the upper floor next to the old cafeteria, but since the upper floor isn’t accessible, Dore said they plan to convert the space into an office and move the kitchen and cafeteria downstairs, where the offices are now. Eventually, the committee will decide on how best to replace the roof – Dore said they could continue to use asphalt shingles, but the committee was considering a metal roof for additional support in cases of heavy snow.

Additional work may be done depending on how residents want to use the space, Dore said.

Dore said that the total cost of the renovation project was about $350,000, and they had expended about $128,000 so far. The second phase cost about $69,000.

Mason received a $30,000 grant from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, or LCHIP, and got additional funding from the state’s Moose Plate grant program and the Heritage Way Fund. Dore said the Town Hall Renovation Committee had raised about $15,000 through fundraisers such as yard sales, raffles and events like Old Home Day. Dore said they plan to hold more fundraisers as work on the Town Hall continues.