Report says building not in dire shape

This photo from engineer Cliff Collins' inspection of Armand Brisson's condemned building shows water damage to ceiling tiles in the former tavern space. Collins thinks a hole in the roof caused widespread water damage; Brisson says the water stains are from a leak he fixed years ago. (Photo courtesy of Cliff Collins)

This photo from engineer Cliff Collins’ inspection of Armand Brisson’s condemned building shows water damage to ceiling tiles in the former tavern space. Collins thinks a hole in the roof caused widespread water damage; Brisson says the water stains are from a leak he fixed years ago. (Photo courtesy of Cliff Collins)

The engineer who inspected Armand Brisson’s condemned building on December 31 finished his evaluation of its interior January 8, concluding the historic structure isn’t about to fall down.

Cliff Collins, the town-hired engineer from Ruggiano Engineering, concluded Brisson’s building, circa 1835, is in “fair to poor condition” with numerous structural deficiencies that can be remedied.

The 17-page report concludes with 12 recommendations, half addressing the building’s exterior and half to allow future occupancy. Assistant State Fire Marshal Chris Boyd said in May he’d tag the building as unsafe until an engineer deems otherwise.

Some of the fixes include securing loose roof slates, tying together the three-course brick wall, securing the building, removing interior clutter and reinforcing floor framing.

Despite being allowed to commence with Brisson’s friend Tom Baker accompanying, Collins’ inspection wasn’t complete, as some areas weren’t accessible or visible. For one, heavy snowfall covered much of the roof, but mainly “large quantities of accumulated personal possessions” obscured the floor framing, he wrote.

Parts of the ground floor ceiling had sagged, but not enough of the joists were exposed to calculate the second floor’s load-bearing capacity, Collins noted. He added that both this and the attic floor could be overstressed by the amount of clutter stored there.

Collins later wrote historic buildings rarely meet current codes and are typically grandfathered unless they change use.

Collins’ report also noted some minor demolition – like removing plaster or other wall coverings – is needed to fully understand the building’s structural integrity.

The building has also sustained water damage, perhaps from a 1-inch gap in the ceiling and roof. Collins noticed stained and sagging tiles in the former tavern’s ceiling.

Brisson said the damage is residual from a leak he fixed four years ago.

Due to snow, Collins had to refer to photographs of the roof taken in May to assess its structure. He concluded the framing is likely sound on the building’s northern addition, the single-story cement block structure closest to the dam.

The main building’s northern side, however, is subject to mold and mildew. The engineer couldn’t access the interior to see if the rot reached the supporting wall; if it does, “the roof will be in danger of imminent collapse,” Collins wrote.

Brisson said of the damage: “I can’t look at that and dispute that. That will probably get fixed.”

Town Manager Brian Palaia didn’t expect Collins’ inspection to be complete; he said “popular knowledge of [Mr. Brisson’s] habits” alerted them to the possibility of finding a building full of material.

Brisson said the town’s knowledge of his possessions comes from a time he had a medical emergency, and police entered his home. He says since then, people have broken in and stolen his stuff. He told Baker to ensure Collins didn’t take any photos showing his belongings and was displeased some did.

“Anything he points out upstairs is at my discretion,” Brisson said. “It has nothing to do with public occupancy.”

As for Collins’ conclusion that the building isn’t an imminent danger, Palaia said though the town’s been unsure about the structure’s integrity, it never considered a “catastrophic or immediate collapse – more a degradation over time,” he said.

Brisson disagrees: All along, he’s said the town has impressed upon the judge a sense of immediacy in dealing with the building’s deficiencies. And all along, Brisson has said there’s really no rush – and that he doesn’t have the funds to make faster progress.

The report shows the town has overstated its case, Brisson said. He thinks any further inspection “is just generating funds for the [engineering] firm.”

Still, the town manager argued, “As is, it’s not going to get any better.”

Though the report touches on many things, it doesn’t contain the answer to the town’s original question: Why did bricks fall from the building last May? Collins’ report doesn’t directly address that problem, Palaia said.

Palaia and Newton hoped to meet with Brisson Tuesday morning to discuss remediation at the site, but that appointment was never finalized, Newton said.

Town officials still hope to resolve a timeframe for fixing the building’s issues before meeting with Judge Geoffrey Crawford in Superior Court on Thursday at 1 p.m.

“I’m going to try to be optimistic about it,” Palaia said.

UPDATE Thursday, Jan. 24 at noon: Today’s hearing was postponed due to Mr. Brisson’s inability to make it to court. Health Officer Taylor Newton said today the hearing will be rescheduled.

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