Some Belmont Mill bricks crumble when door frame is removed

BELMONT — Selectmen authorized the town administrator to contact a structural engineer Monday night to get an estimate on fixing the interior brick work in the front hallway on the historical Belmont Mill after it partially collapsed Saturday.

According to Building Inspector Steve Paquin, the brick work around the front door crumbled Saturday morning after town employees removed it to replace the framing.

"The steel frame was rotted at the bottom," Paquin said yesterday.

He said once the door came out, the brickwork crumbled, causing some damage to the front stairwell, which provides access to the bell tower that is not used. He said they were able to use wood to shore up the frame and the building is structurally safe and sound.

The primary entrance to the Belmont Mill is on the other side of the building where there is an elevator. Paquin said this entrance was only used by the day care center and, in an emergency, there are still two ways to get out of the center .

Paquin explained that interior brick was not built to withstand any outside elements such as water and that because the building was open for a number of years after it burned, some of the brick has been compromised.

He said engineers from Bonnett, Page and Stone in Laconia were there for about 90 minutes Tuesday and will be coming up with a repair solution.

"I have asked them to fast-track it because I really want that entrance open," Paquin said.

When told of the interior wall collapse, selectmen agreed that this could be a recurring problem throughout the interior of the building and that a great deal of the interior brick may have to be removed.

Ultimately, said Selectman Ruth Mooney, the town may have to build a "building within a building."

Paquin said he couldn't comment on the size and scope of the issue until the town gets the engineering report, but noted that the historical element of the building is its exterior.
He said many of the interior walls have already been replaced but there are some places, and the front stairwell is one of them, where that had not happened.

In related news, Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin informed the board that the fourth floor and the portion of the second floor former occupied by the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program is no longer required to meet low-to-middle income usage, saving the town $21,000 this year.

The mill was partially restored using a $1 million USDA Community Development Block Grant that restricts its use to low-to-middle income uses.

This means the town won't have to reimburse the Community Development Finance Authority $21,000 to use the second floor space for the Department of Parks and Recreation.