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North Brookfield bell tower restoration is a labor of love

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

By Bradford L. Miner

Master carpenter Jeff Samuelson sees his handiwork as a catalyst for saving the landmark Town House at 185 North Main St.

For nearly 11 years, the historic building has been vacant as town officials and civic groups have worked toward a comprehensive restoration, returning it to the glory of a time when George M. Cohan graced the great hall stage.

“There’s little or no grant money for a project of that scope. It’s our town’s identity at stake and it’s our responsibility to fix it, but we’ve got to start with something that’s realistic,” Mr. Samuelson said.

Gesturing at the crumbling remains of the bell tower he removed from atop the Town House on Sept. 2, 2011, he said the building as it is today is the product of a long history of uneven and shoddy maintenance and repair.

“In the past, whenever an emergency arose with the building, they put a Band-Aid on the problem and it looked good for a while if you were standing on the sidewalk, but we’re losing ground every day,” he said.

When Tropical Storm Irene damaged the bell tower so much it became a threat to public safety, town officials brought in a crane and after Mr. Samuelson had stabilized it, lifted it off its perch and lowered it to the ground.

On that occasion a wistful Eugene V. Caille Jr., town historian, wondered if the tower’s demise was the beginning of the end for the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is a sad day for North Brookfield. The Town House is what makes North Brookfield what it is. And without the bell tower, it’s just not the same,” Mr. Caille said at the time.

Echoing that sentiment, Mr. Samuelson said, “Just imagine what the center of town would look like if the Town House were torn down, as some have suggested.”

Thanks to a settlement from the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association for damage stemming from Tropical Storm Irene in September 2011, the finished tower will sport a finial of Corian and acrylic covered in gold leaf, Mr. Samuelson said.

“My hope is that it will inspire residents of the town to consider tackling the restoration of the building’s exterior to stabilize it, and worry about the interior later,” he said.

He said the estimated cost of the project is $150,000 and the tower should be ready to be lifted by crane to the Town House roof sometime in November.

Mr. Samuelson said he’s preparing a PowerPoint presentation for a selectmen’s meeting next month that will document problems with the dormers and façade that are contributing to the steady deterioration of the structure.

“As I see it, we’ve got one chance as a town to do it right and save a building that’s key to the town’s identity,” he said.

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