GORHAM — A nearly 200-year-old building on University of Southern Maine campus stands exposed to the elements as university officials and local preservation groups grapple over what type of siding will replace the clapboards that were stripped from the exterior, part of a renovation halted last week amid concerns that the structure could be kicked off the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationists are calling for replication of the original wood and restoration of the original windows, but budget constraints mean new windows and more modern materials, including vinyl, may be the only option, college officials have said.
Dick Campbell, USM’s chief financial officer, said Wednesday a new renovation plan for the building, which is used as an art gallery, must be in place within 10 days, to avoid weather damage and the added costs of holding up the contractor, and so the project will be ready when school opens this fall.
“We have a time factor in this,” he told USM officials and preservationists, including state historian Earle Shettleworth, at a round-table discussion in the campus’s Upton-Hastings Hall.
Campbell said university officials would talk to the project’s contractor, Freeport-based Doten’s Construction, to get a better understanding of how far along the project is and how much time and money is left to better meet historic preservation standards.
He said he would update the preservation groups by Thursday afternoon, so they could prepare a joint plan to ensure the structure is “buttoned up” before any more damage is done to the Greek Revival building, which used to be Gorham’s town hall.
The project was begun last winter after a roof truss and two support columns in the front of the building failed, revealing other problems, including water infiltration that rotted the siding and windows.
The plan was to replace the clapboard siding with vinyl and install new windows, rather than restore the old ones, to keep costs down.
But preservationists say all the original material that can be restored should be and whatever can’t should be replaced with a close replication – not materials that didn’t exist when the structure was built in 1821.
University officials said the institution’s well-publicized budget woes limited the project budget to $320,000, which precludes restoring or replacing the original materials.
But, they said, the renovation plans aimed to replicate the look of the original structure by using custom-milled trim to disguise the vinyl siding and relying on old photographs to craft new shutters.
The project’s architect, Jack Byer of Timothy D. Smith & Associates in Vermont, said the shutters on certain windows always stay closed.
He said it makes sense not to replace those windows, which are rotting, and instead cover the holes with shutters that stay permanently closed.
The cost is lower and no one would know the difference, he said.
Shettleworth, the state historian, disagreed.
“To just put the shutters back over the openings is not to allow the building to have its original character, its original design and function,” he said. “It’s a mock situation.”