May 20, 2018
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Willimantic moving ahead with needed corrections to Town Hall

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

WILLIMANTIC, Maine — Residents’ concerns about structural problems left behind by the renovation of the Town Hall were validated Thursday by a structural engineer retained by the town.

Town officials have spent about $93,500 to renovate the hall to expand its use and provide a

safe place for municipal documents, but those renovations were done without an engineering plan or a permit from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

As such, the use of the building is restricted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and some of the work completed does not comply with the state building code.

“I think it’s miscommunication and the lack of a plan,” Steve Govoni, a structural engineer with Wentworth Partners and Associates, said Thursday. “This happens every time we have a design by committee. We all have different pictures in our heads, and I think that’s all that happened here, but it has caused a tremendous amount of debate.”

Selectmen Thomas Capraro and John Tatko and former board member Linda Packard hadn’t hired an engineer for the project, they said earlier, because they were trying to save the town money. They drafted the specifications and awarded the bids. Before the work started, however, they contacted the town’s planning board and the State Fire Marshal’s Office and were told that no permits were needed, Capraro said.

Rich McCarthy, senior plans examiner for the fire marshal’s office, said earlier that he understood that the building would not have a full basement, just a crawl space, which meant it would not have required a permit.

Capraro said that when town officials placed the project, which included a new foundation, out to bid, they had no intention of using the basement or the second floor in the near future.

Govoni, who inspected the Town Hall on Thursday, told approximately 25 residents and contractors that there are both safety and building code problems that need to be addressed. He said the project must follow the State Fire Marshal’s Office code and the state building code.

Until all the safety violations are met, only 35 residents are allowed on the first floor at one time, and there can be no use of the basement or the second floor, according to state officials. Some of the safety issues, which include the installation of smoke detectors, lighted signs and doors opening out, have been addressed.

The structural problems are another matter, according to Govoni. There is a problem with water in the basement which has caused some mold on the wallboard.

“We need to get the basement dry,” Govoni said.

In addition, the steel beam in the basement is unprotected and is starting to rust; it needs to be primed and painted, he said. The building must be anchored, seal must be added between the foundation and the building, and a new ramp for the handicapped needs some changes, among other issues.

While the contractors say they completed the work plan as specified, Govoni agreed to write letters to them and ask that they make the necessary corrections. Two of the contractors who attended the meeting said they would make the adjustments, but it is unknown who will bear the cost.

“They know they need to come back and fix it,” Govoni said. “I don’t see this as an expense for the town.”

At the request of residents, Govoni said he would work up a plan and cost estimates so the town could do a certain amount of work over the years to bring the building up to code for its full use. He estimated the total cost at $150,000 to $200,000.

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