Work in progress: Whately’s 1844 Town Hall getting a new lease on life

  • Whately Select Board Chairman Frederick Orloski, left, and George Dole of Jones Whitsett Architects, right, inspect construction at the Whately Town Hall on Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • The Whately Town Hall’s unfinished second floor, as seen Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Selectboard Chairman Frederick Orloski walks through the Town Hall Monday, March 5, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • A new catwalk in the attic of the Whately Town Hall, as seen Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Construction equipment is seen outside of Whately’s historic 1844 Town Hall on Monday. The building, which has been vacant since town offices moved to Sandy Lane a few years ago, is currently undergoing approximately $1.3 million in renovations for a new century of service to the community. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Lath and plaster walls as seen in the Town Hall Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • A carpenter from Wesfield Construction works inside the Whately Town Hall Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • A carpenter from Wesfield Construction works inside the Whately Town Hall as Selectboard Chairman Frederick Orloski, left, inspects the building, Monday, March 5, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

For the Gazette
Thursday, March 08, 2018

WHATELY — The high-pitched rasp of a circular saw echoed through opened wall studs in Whately’s historic Town Hall Monday morning as carpenters cut two-by-fours and hung wires. Fresh sawdust drifted through recently framed rooms.

“The goal is to do the best job in a reasonable scope,” said George Dole of Greenfield-based Jones Whitsett Architects, project manager overseeing about $1.3 million in renovations in the Town Hall, standing in a room that will soon be the Whately Historical Society’s base of operations.

Dole looked up at the above floor’s exposed large timber beams that were covered by sheetrock before restoration work began late last year.

“What you’re seeing here is the first floor that has been moved up,” Dole said, noting that a second story was added about 30 years after the town hall was built in 1844. Since then, Dole said Whately has maintained the building well.

Once this recent round of renovation work has been completed, hopefully by June, the Town Hall will have new restrooms, updated plumbing and electrical, energy-efficient insulation and windows, a consolidated septic system, new stairs, a handicapped-accessible ramp and a lift.

“The outside is going to look the same. We went with the historic windows to keep that look, too,” said Select Board Chairman Frederick Orloski, standing beside Dole. Orloski helped garner public support for the restoration project that started to gain ground about six years ago and was approved at last year’s Town Meeting.

“I worked 50 years ago on putting insulation in,” Orloski said. “It’s an exciting time for me.”

The project will be paid for through a combination of state, local and private funds, culminating years of efforts by volunteers. About $150,000 was raised through private fundraising. Another $340,000 was contributed from the town’s Community Preservation Act fund, and $315,000 came from a $1.2 million American Tower Corp. cell tower sale that closed a few years ago.

From the state, $60,000 was given through the Massachusetts Preservation Project Fund, and $164,310 came from the Department of Energy Resources Green Communities Division. Orloski stressed that taxes will not be raised to pay for the project, and it will be completed in time for Whately’s 250th anniversary that’s scheduled for 2021.

The project’s scope

The 7,400-square-foot Town Hall has been almost continuously used since it was built, filling a variety of needs including as a school over the years. Since Whately’s town offices moved to Sandy Lane a few years ago, the building has remained vacant.

Much of the restoration work is hidden. Below, floor joists have been reinforced and upgraded to control below-floor temperature, and the septic system outside was consolidated to serve both the Town Hall and post office next door.

A catwalk and new lighting has been built in the building’s attic to add insulation and for future maintenance. Above, the building’s slate roof will be repaired with tiles from an outside shed that was demolished as part of the project.

Even with construction ongoing, it’s easy to envision what the rejuvenated Town Hall will look like.

Immediately inside the front door, a staircase — lit by sunlight streaming through the building’s original windows — immaculately restored offsite — leads up to a large meeting room big enough for 100 people on the second floor. Orloski said that room will be available for community and town events.

Down a hallway, the Historical Society’s room is adjacent to a kitchenette and across from a restroom. Next to that, carpenters cut a doorway into Whately’s old 20th-century safe, which has foot-wide concrete walls, to create rooms for meetings or municipal functions.

At the hallway’s end, tall windows overlook woods from an spacious addition that houses a three-stop lift. An outside door leads down a ramp to a few new handicapped-accessible parking spaces.

“The views out here are spectacular. Before, you couldn’t see out,” Dole said, noting that the building will receive a fresh coat of period-appropriate paint and soundproofing will be installed on the second floor. Everything that can be restored, like the plaster and lath walls, will be kept. But some elements won’t be.

“We’re not keeping any of the historic 1970s wallpaper,” Dole said.

A few challenges

As with any historic building, renovating the Town Hall has posed small and unforeseen challenges, according to Scott Castine, superintendent on site with Wesfield Construction, the project’s contractor. Once the project’s finalized plans were approved by town officials in November, Orloski, Town Administrator Brian Domina, Dole, and others have met weekly to tackle problems as they arise.

“We’ve encountered several conditions that were structurally related,” Castine said. “There’s a lot of detail that goes into it. With a new building, you start from the ground up and you know what to shoot for.”

Another challenge posed by the project is matching new construction with old techniques.

“They had their methodology, and we have ours. Plum level and squared were attempted but not always achieved,” Castine continued.

As a result, Domina said the project will probably require a little bit more money than anticipated. Wesfield Construction won the project with a bid of $1,335,321. Domina estimated a final cost of between $1.4 million to $1.5 million.