Engineers say 4th floor of Belmont Mill won't support restaurant

BELMONT — A draft evaluation of the entire Belmont Mill indicates that the fourth floor of the historic building needs some reinforcement but is likely structurally sound enough for office space.
The report, which was presented to selectmen last night, said the fourth floor was not designed to be used as a restaurant and kitchen because those spaces typically require 100 pounds-pe-square-feet of floor strength verses the 50 pounds-per-square-feet typically required for office space.
"The original beams are adequate for office-type loading but with any degree of decay the beam must be reinforced to support a office-live load," read the report that noted there was some beam decay in test places that would be consistent with the history of the building.
The use of the mill came into question in August of 2012 when the former tenants — the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program and its Food For Thought Cafe — asked selectmen to replace the carpet in the hall way and dining room because of wear and tear.
During the discussion, Chef Patrick Hall mentioned that there was a soft spot in the dining room floor and selectmen asked the code enforcement officer to examine it. The engineering report indicates that without significant reinforcements to the original beam, a restaurant would not be an appropriate use.
Code Enforcement Officer Steve Paquin and engineers determined the fourth floor was not sound enough for use as a kitchen and restaurant and the cooking school relocated in part to the Laconia High School and in part to Concord High School.
Since then the fourth floor has been vacant and selectmen hired H.L. Turner Group to perform a structural assessment to see if the building was viable and if the work the town commissioned during the restoration was completed as required.
The mill was built in the 1830s and used for industrial purposes until it was vacated in 1970. In August of 1992 there was a significant fire causing considerable damage to the fourth floor and water damage throughout. The town of Belmont bought the mill in 1995 and restoration work was completed in 1997. For the better part of those years most of the fourth floor was open to the elements.
Selectmen said the original scope of work was to replace the entire sub-floor of the fourth floor, however it appears the sub-floor was only partially replaced during the restoration.
Engineers also preliminarily determined the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system needed some work and one of the three units — the first floor — had been disconnected and was likely inoperable.
The initial recommendation to selectman was to determine how much structural work was needed on the mill before engineers did a complete examination of the HVAC system.
Last night Paquin was unavailable to selectmen, who said they would discuss the draft report with him in more depth at their April 15 meeting.