Town to “explore” what lurks behind Bridgton Town Hall walls

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Jeff Frye wants to take a more surgical approach to determining if the Town Hall walls as structurally sound or not.

Initially, the town was on track to seek bids for the removal and disposal of the white vinyl siding at the North High Street building.

Then, the town would follow up with a second step of installing composite clapboards.

But, is the building structurally sound enough to install the new clapboards, or do moisture issues and rot exist behind those walls?

Bridgton Selectman Bear Zaidman recently joined a prebid meeting regarding removal of the town hall’s vinyl siding, and heard many questions raised by the Building Committee whether another approach should be followed.

Frye, who selectmen recently appointed to serve as Bridgton’s clerk of the works on local building projects, introduced himself and spoke briefly on his background as a general manager for a construction company in Portland and a mechanical power engineer. He is currently semiretired, and operates a consulting firm, Design Review. He works with clients to be sure their designs are complete.

The first project Frye will tackle as clerk of the works will be the Salmon Point Beach bathhouse.

“My interest in getting involved in the town was due in part with the issues that came up with the Woods Pond bathhouse,” he said. “I offered to volunteer my services, but was told I couldn’t do that. So, I am a contract laborer. My interest is doing this is in the best interest of the town and the town’s taxpayers.”

Frye has followed the town hall issue for a couple of years, and now has access to some of the reporting done on the structure.

The intent of removing the vinyl siding was to give the Building Committee the opportunity to determine the existing conditions of the structure.

“We do know, through previous investigations, that there has been significant amount of water entry into the side walls. The wall facing the monument is probably the worst,” Frye said.

Preliminary work has addressed the building’s underpinning and roof structure. Now, the town wants to know what shape the walls are in.

Rather than remove all of the siding, Frye recommended to selectmen that only a “selective investigation area” be looked at, such as sections known to have water damage.

“Working from the exterior of the building is more time consuming but has the distinct advantage of not disrupting the use of the building,” Frye noted. “The town is in a fortunate place that recent environmental quality assessment reports have come back with no concerns about indoor air quality. Working from the exterior of the building, it would insure that would remain true. We wouldn’t be disturbing anything inside the building.”

Rather than put removal of siding out to bid and use grant funds, Frye and Building Committee members discussed seeking authorization of a small amount of money (“capped” by selectmen) to use contractors that the town has experience with to do a “limited” inspections.

Town Manager Robert Peabody reviewed that the bid called for removal of the vinyl siding and installation of composite clapboards. The Building Committee had suggested a two-step bid process — one being removal of the exterior siding, and then the committee would “spec out” the clapboards.

The concern is whether the building is structurally sound to take on the new clapboard siding.

“If there has been water intrusion, it would be prudent to investigate those areas first, evaluate the extent of any damage and what it would cost to correct it,” Frye said. “There is a lot of siding on that building. If you removed all the siding and found you had issues, it would then be exposed to the elements and now you could be facing a much larger project financially than you had originally anticipated.”

The first target site would be near the top of the wall then down.

Under the white siding is foam board insulation, presumably over the old clapboards.

Selectman Bob McHatton asked if it was springtime whether Frye would look to remove the siding completely.

“Not unless I was prepared to undertake what remains as an unknown cost for an unforeseen conditions,” he said.

McHatton responded, “You would find that out by removing the vinyl siding. (Removal) there would be no damage to the building, and you would have a better view of the entire building.”

Frye said he would not be comfortable opening up the entire building at once, and then finding significant structural problems in the thick of winter without funds needed to correct the problems.

“I try to be sensitive to keeping the building open. When it has been closed, it has been a burden on a number of people who use it,” Frye said. “Taking this approach (select investigation) would allow the interior, at this point of time, to remain untouched and usable. The other important aspect working from the outside is if we find some mold situation that need to be mediated, we’re not negatively impacting the interior air quality.”

Selectman Bernie King asked Frye if he had an estimate as to what it would cost to take on the limited investigative work. Frye believes it would be in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $10,000 to get a “good handle what is going on” inside the town hall walls — perhaps less.

King wondered if work could wait until warmer weather, since Frye did note that vinyl siding becomes brittle in colder weather.

“It could wait,” Frye said. “My thought is if there is an opportunity to find out now what problems exist during the slow building season, develop a scope of work, have an opportunity to secure the necessary funding, we would be then be able to hit the ground running in the spring and get it done.”

Zaidman asked Frye to give some comments regarding potential structural issues based on some initial observations. Siding flaws (settling/sagging) were found near windows, which indicate the potential for moisture problems within the walls or rot. Frye expects the investigative approach would result in the “opening up” of three to four areas (“a lot can be told with a foot,” he said), higher up in wall areas. He would also review what work has already been completed.

“If we do find out it is more extensive, then we can develop a larger scope of work that would need to go out to bid,” Frye said.

When King motioned that up to $10,000 be used for the exploratory project, McHatton asked Peabody where the town could draw those funds.

“I was going to ask that myself,” Peabody said, noting no money had been budgeted for this project.

Playing devil’s advocate, Peabody asked Frye “what in your professional opinion if the town just goes ahead and sides the building?”

The question would be whether the existing sheathing would hold nails to apply siding, Frye said.

Peabody then asked if “punky” sheathing was found and replaced, — “it’s an old building,” he added — your concern is really structure, correct? “Yes,” Frye answered.

Peabody pointed out that the building would not be exposed since it would still have the older clapboards in place.

“You wouldn’t be exposing the building’s skeleton in the winter time,” he said.

What condition are those clapboards in? No one is sure.

Peabody needed selectmen to decide whether to cancel the bid, which was due Dec. 1. He would then “hunt for money” to cover the exploratory work.

Regarding a cap on money spent, Peabody said if the expense was over $10,000, he would ask the board if they wanted to continue or scrap the work for now or find more funds. “The opinion of the board does matter,” Peabody added.

Frye sees the approach as getting some unknowns as known onto the table.

McHatton, however, failed to see how the town was benefiting by exploring rather than simply taking all of the vinyl off the building and then look into whether underlying issues exist.

A second bid would be to reclapboard the building, if no problems exist.

“Instead of spending $5,000 or $10,000 right now for inspection holes, remove the vinyl siding and insulation, then inspect the building,” McHatton said.

Board Chairman Greg Watkins said if the town can learn what is happening behind the walls through a one-foot hole, it is better than exposing the entire building.

It is not known what type of insulation exists between the interior and exterior walls.

Zaidman motioned that the town cancel the vinyl siding removal bid. Selectmen voted 3–1 to cancel the bid (McHatton opposed).

If the town had proceeded with the bid, Peabody said $30,000 would be taken from the Building Reserve Fund, which covers the municipal office building and the Town Hall. So, exploratory money would be taken from this fund.

“If we are talking about the structure of that building — you’re talking about the structural integrity of that building, the concern that is being raised — it’s a public building, I am going to want a structural engineer to look at that building,” Peabody said. “I would look to a structural engineer to do the testing because we don’t want to be wrong. I am going to have them tell me what needs to be opened up. I agree it needs to be opened up, but I want it to go back on somebody who has a license if something goes wrong. That protects the town. We are able to transfer our liability to someone else.”

Referring to the town’s purchasing policy, Peabody believes he could select a structural engineer, and not put the work out to bid. He would indicate within the project file the reason for his decision.

“I’ll keep you updated,” Peabody said.

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