Bridgton Town Hall has water damage, report reveals

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Town Hall on North High Street has an identity crisis that won’t be resolved anytime soon. It’s a historical building, but it’s also the only home Bridgton has right now for its core recreation programs like basketball and softball.

On Tuesday, Bridgton Selectmen learned of a more immediate crisis. Moisture is damaging the Town Hall’s very foundation, and the problem needs to be addressed no matter what uses its residents eventually want to make of the building.

The board heard in a draft building evaluation report from Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering that grading issues on the property means that drainage around and under the building “doesn’t function very well.” Dube said that in fact, the current grading “creates a couple of small streams that flow underneath the building.”

Just as important, said Dube, on the first floor there are a “couple of locations in the center of the building where we have some broken beams.” Replacing those beams “is a top priority, as it is directly affecting floor performance and is a safety concern.”

Rotted sill plates also need replacing, he said. Intrusion of continual moisture over time breaks down the wood fibers. The rotting plates have caused a dip in the gym floor where basketball and other high-impact sports are played. The fix will be neither easy nor inexpensive, since the floor will need to be jacked up in order to do the work.

Those were just some of the structural problems Dube categorized as “Level One” priorities for the town as it budgets for repairs. Equally important is the need to repair the external grading issues that are causing the water damage.

“Directing water away from the building is imperative to future performance of the building,” Dube wrote in his draft report. “We have a significant amount of water that is coming into the building and going against the building. It’s certainly one of the more expensive items,” he said.

Level One repairs, which deal with human health and safety, should be completed in one year, he said. The Level One list also includes replacement of the chimney flashing, although he said the metal roof won’t need to be replaced for another five to 10 years.

Cheaper fixes that could give the town a lot of bang for the buck include caulking around windows and at all existing foundation blocks and cracks; installing blown-in cellulose or spray foam insulation in the roof; and providing a time switch for night setback control of the heating system.

Dube had high praise for the Town Hall’s roof framing system, built from trusses. “I almost wish it was exposed, because it’s very aesthetically pleasing,” he said. Dube doesn’t see the need to change the roof structure at all. “The remedial program can be executed without altering the historical significance of the structure, and will aid in extending the life of the building,” he said.

There are some places on the exterior siding that have been damaged from cars bumping against the building, but there’s no need to replace all of the siding at this time, he said. Several accessibility issues need to be addressed, including handrails for the front stairs to meet standards, and reconfiguring the ramp landings and slopes at the front entrance.

Dube shied away from giving the board his opinion on whether basketball should continue to be played in the building. “You have to make a policy decision. That’s not my place,” he said. “From my perspective, no more work needs to be done (beyond the recommended beam and sill replacements) if you want to continue to play basketball.”

If the moisture issues aren’t addressed, however, he cautioned, the sheathing could become even more compromised.”

Resident Bob Wiser, who owns a construction company, said he recalled seeing the same water issues under the building when he worked there in the 1970s. He said Town Hall was built on the site of a former stream bed. “There’s a lot of posts under there,” where short spans have been joined. “It looks like a jungle under there.”

Community Development Committee Chairman Chuck Renneker said the town cannot ignore the building use question for long, even as it considers the most pressing repairs. “Is it going to be the recreation center for this town moving forward? If the use is going to change, we need to look at that.”

A substantial amount of the town’s recreation programming is located in Town Hall, Recreation Director Gary Colello said. “No one’s ever complained about the floor not bouncing correctly” as they play basketball, he noted. It’s difficult to schedule times to use SAD #61’s Stevens Brook Elementary School gym for any length of time, and the town runs basketball programs daily from 4 to 8 p.m.

“I don’t have another place to put a basketball team or to put any other sport,” said Colello. “If (Town Hall) isn’t used for recreation, we would be in very big trouble in finding a place for our kids to play.”

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