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Norwood Town Hall gets a makeover

Town treasurer Bob McGuire walks beneath scaffolding.

Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe

Town treasurer Bob McGuire walks beneath scaffolding.

NORWOOD — The $3 million face lift of Norwood Town Hall continues, as workers take painstaking care to repair cracks and plug leaks in the historic 85-year-old building.

“It’s slow work,” said Jeff D’Amico, project manager for Compass Project Management. ‘’We’ve had to individually number every stone that comes off the building. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.’’

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D’Amico said workers took hundreds of photos of the 150-foot-high tower and catalogued them. Ashlar granite from the original Weymouth quarry was ordered to match the color and design of the exterior covering.

The building, officially called the Norwood Memorial Municipal Building, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, but architect Dale Gienapp said, “The town has also treated that building like the jewel that it is.”

With its chapel-like Memorial Hall, adorned with stained-glass windows, and with churches across the street, the building, at the corner of Washington and Nahatan streets, is sometimes mistaken for a church.

Those involved in the rehab project said the work is progressing as planned and on budget. The shrouded scaffolding is expected to be off and the job completed by Oct. 15, D’Amico said.

Jean Lang for the Boston Globe

The restoration project was conceived two years ago, when pieces of granite began falling off the building.

D’Amico and others gave a tour of the work on a recent 90-degree day, climbing the outside temporary winding metal stairs up the tower.

‘The dirty work is done . . . now it’s just building it back up.’

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“It’s brutal, it’s pretty tough,” said Donal Coomey, project manager for Contracting Specialists Inc., of the heat that day. “But we’re used to it. It’s what we do.”

The company is doing much of the construction work, along with Titan Roofing Inc., which is working to repair or replace portions of the slate roof.

“The dirty work is done, the demolition is done; now it’s just building it back up,” said Edward McKenna, the project point person for the town’s Permanent Building Construction Committee.

McKenna said the project was first conceived two years ago, when pieces of the granite began falling off the building. He said a bucketful of pieces was collected and emergency money was found to put a roof over the entrance. He said the bucket of pieces was used to convince the town’s Finance Committee that the work needed to be done sooner rather than later.

Many area communities are struggling to maintain infrastructure while keeping their budgets balanced. The town manager in Hull has said the 91-year-old town hall there is in such disrepair that it may need to be gutted or replaced in the next two years. In May, Town Meeting in Upton approved spending $6.5 million on the renovation of its town hall, with $2 million coming from Community Preservation Act funds and the rest being borrowed.

Jean Lang for the Boston Globe

Business is still conducted while the Town Hall is shrouded and refurbished.

In Norwood, McKenna said, $1.2 million was approved to pay for the architect and project manager to watch over the work for the town. That and the costs of construction bring the project to approximately $3 million. Town Meeting in November gave final approval to borrow money for the repairs.

McKenna said that there was more stone work needed than had originally been expected, but that it is not a financial problem.

“On a restoration you always have to have contingency, because you don’t know what you are going to get,” he said.

D’Amico said water seeping in between the exterior granite and the interior masonry brick caused cracks and deterioration. As more water got in, more damage was being done. Some bricks can be repaired, while others are being replaced.

“It definitely needed some repair work,” Coomey said.

D’Amico said one of challenges of this job is the height. Workers near the higher portion of the tower must be secured with harnesses.

Another consideration is that town business is continuing within the building. D’Amico said one or two entrances at a time might be closed, but others are kept open for visitors and town employees.

Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe

Norwood Town Hall, under construction.

Assistant general manager Bernard Cooper said it can be noisy if the work is right outside an office, but it generally does not last for more than a couple of days and the windows are mostly closed because of the air conditioning.

Another concern is the carillon within the tower. There are 50 large bells that have been covered with blankets to protect them, but the blankets have to be taken on and off for the summer carillon concert series, which runs from July 1 to Aug. 19.

Norwood’s carillon was cast by Gillett & Johnston, of Croydon, England, and, together with the Norwood Memorial Building and Tower, was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1928, according to the town website. It was a gift from Walter Tilton, a prominent local banker and civic leader, to his fellow townspeople.

Lee B. Leach, the town’s volunteer carillonneur, said there are eight traditional carillons in the state and Norwood’s may be the only one in the country that is part of a town hall. He said the carillon has had some wires replaced, but is basically in original condition.

“Many who have never played here are astounded by the quality of these bells,” he said. “The sounds of these bells are very special.”

The concert series features carillonneurs from Canada and Europe.

Leach has being playing the carillon for 17 years. He said before he retired from Polaroid, he would come during his lunchtime and play for a half-hour.

He said the annual maintenance check-up for the carillon was put off until after the construction is done, and featured tours associated with the carillon concerts may have to be abridged. But he said he does not expect any major changes related to the carillon because of the work.

William Kinsman, head of the town’s Permanent Building Construction Committee, said Town Hall is special to residents, some of whom have even gotten married there.

“We do have a lot of people concerned about preserving history in this town,” he said.

Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@gmail.com.
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