Meetinghouse repairs underway

With roof beams in better-than-expected shape, renovations could expand

HANCOCK — The beams supporting the roof of the Hancock Meetinghouse are in surprisingly good shape, considering that they have been in place for nearly 200 years. When deteriorating slate shingles were stripped off this week and the roof was opened up, only one beam was found that needed significant reinforcement. Workers began making repairs to that beam on the west side of the building on Tuesday, while new slate shingles are already being installed on the east side, where no significant repair work was needed.

The Meetinghouse is undergoing its first full renovation since it was moved to its present location on Main Street in 1851 and rebuilt as a two-story structure, with a sanctuary for worship upstairs and a space for town meetings on the lower level. In March, voters approved a warrant article to borrow up to $817,412 for the renovations.

Private donations and grants have so far generated about $300,000 to help pay for the project, which will reduce the amount the town needs to borrow, according to Gary Ryer, chair of the Meetinghouse Restoration Committee.

As he conducted a tour of the site Tuesday, Project Superintendent Bob Latiolais of the MacMillin Company in Keene said a new roof beam of pressure-treated lumber will be tied in where the old one was rotten and galvanized steel reinforcement plates will be installed.

“When we opened up the roof, all the rest [of the beams] were in fantastic shape,” Latiolais said.

Both the old slate shingles and a layer of old cedar shingles beneath them are being removed and some of the underlying boards of the roof have been replaced with new rough-cut lumber. The new slates are being installed using copper nails. Latiolais said workers are saving as many of the old slates as possible, because the town is intending to sell them as souvenirs.

Latiolas said the work on the roof is about 30 percent complete.

“We still need to remove the dip by the steeple so the roof ends up straight,” he said.

In the basement of the building, work is 99 percent finished, Latiolais said. Sixty-three concrete pads were poured that hold new timbers, braced by galvanized angle plates, to support the first floor of the building. Some of the timbers were milled from a row of cedar trees that stood outside the building and were cut down at the start of the project.

“We replaced almost every timber down here,” Latiolais said as he looked over the basement. “We leveled as we went along. Some of the posts had to be raised and some were lowered.”

He said the new supports in the basement have made it possible to level the first floor, which had several dips or bulges both in the entryway portion and the lower section, which Meetinghouse Committee members have said will be available for use as meeting space.

The very noticeable bulge in the entryway floor will be completely gone once the floor settles and all the supports are fully locked down, Latiolais said.

“We brought it down about 2 1/2 inches,” he said.

Three large 8-foot-by-8-foot beams that independently support the upper floor of the building did not need to be replaced, according to Latiolais.

Most of the interior construction work is being done on the first floor of the building. Bathrooms in the back corner have been removed and that area will become the home of a kitchen, which the building did not have prior to the renovation. Two large handicapped accessible bathrooms will be installed in what was once the secretary’s office for the First Congregational Church, which meets in the sanctuary on the second floor.

A lift will also be built to bring people from the first to the second floor. Latiolais said a large sheet of safety plate glass will be installed on the side of the lift that faces the exterior windows, so those using the lift will be able to see out as they ride upstairs.

The Meetinghouse building is jointly owned by the town and the First Congregational Church, an unusual arrangement that led some residents at informational meetings last year to question whether it was appropriate for the town to fund the full amount of the project. At Town Meeting, voters were informed that many members of the church had made contributions to the private fund raising effort and the bond request drew wide support, gaining approval by a margin of 171 to 36.

Ryer said on Wednesday that because the roof repairs were not as extensive as committee members feared, the group may be able to restore some of the items that were cut, including two windows on the inside wall between the entry way and the lower first-floor meeting space.

“What we had decided to do when we went for approval was to reduce the scope of project,” Ryer said. “We had contingencies built in. Our biggest concern was what they might find when roof was opened, but now we’re in pretty good shape. We may be able to use the contingency money for other things.”

Ryer said volunteers will be constructing a ramp to provide handicapped access to the lower section at the back of the first floor, and Hancock resident Woody Huntington has volunteered to do the cabinet work in the new kitchen.

The stage in the lower level will probably be taken down and rebuilt, Ryer said, with access to the stage level coming through the office of the church’s minister, which is on the left side of the entryway, although details for that construction are still being worked out.

New storm windows are due to be delivered around Labor Day and Ryer’s hopeful that the project could be finished sometime in September.

He said donations may still be made for the project. Contributions should be sent to the Hancock Improvement Association, P.O. Box 112, Hancock 03449.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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