Ron Cino, gave the Open Gates lecture Tuesday evening and the topic was the Walker renovations. He started with a slide and a talk on how school is close to home for a lot of people and showed how Davis Hall dismantling took a lot away from the campus. He explained the process of how the renovations came to be. The master plan group Utile had called for work at the student center and Daniels, etc., but all of the architectural firms that bid on the school’s projects indicated that Walker Hall’s issues needed to be addressed. He referenced the campaign and that a bond had been used to finance the work on both Walker and Daniels. One of the bidders stated that most schools have one outstanding old-time building, but Worcester Academy has six, so we are unique compared to many schools. This is the first major renovation in the entire history of the building. Ron mentioned how historic the acquisition of the St. Vincent’s property is as it has more acreage than either the main campus or Gaskill.
Ron then started to give more details about the work. He mentioned how plans had to be approved by the Worcester Historical Commission and that the gable on the east side of the roof had to moved. The installation of elevator shaft took about 1/2 of the space from Dan Dagenais’ classroom. A sky light had to be installed as there are no more windows in the room as they were taken when the gable was replaced/moved to create the elevator shaft. Ron did not mention that the other end of the room has been impacted by the installation of a closet which contains the newly-installed ship staircase to the attic.
He mentioned some of the major challenges that were expected and that are going on still. First is the electrical. The electrical system for the neighborhood is underground which is good in the sense that WA did not loose power during some of the recent storms. However, because the streets have to have to be dug up to replace the wires, it is costly to do upgrades. Thus, the upgrade for the neighborhood was delayed. The result for the project was that connection has still not been completed and the elevator cannot be used. Walker is being powered by a generator. It is a diesel-powered generator and has been running since this summer. It has broken down on a few occasions leaving Walker without power. The most recent incident occurred on the Monday morning of the parent/teacher conferences. It turns out the filters clogged up.
Heating is another issue. Recently the Head of School suite was 98 degrees while at the same time a room on an upper floor was 45 degrees. As far as I know, the lower floors temperatures are okay as they are part of the new heating system. The upper stories have not been converted yet and that is the area that is having problems.
Another area of attention is water drainage. It was found that water was seeping into the rooms in the basement sections of the building. Though it had been addressed, a special effort was done to block the water from getting into the walls of the building. Ron explained that some of the newly installed drywall had to be replaced. The work around the building is pretty much done now and there is a small retaining wall about a foot outside the foundation. There are grates between the wall and the foundation, so I assume that storm water comes down through the grates and goes down new drainage pipes to the storm water system on Aetna Street. It had been planned to do this upgrade next summer, but this work had to be completed this year due to problems experienced over the summer. There is still no handicap access to Walker. That is part of the work for next year. The work has had an impact on Abercrombie House. Recently, Nathalie found a room in the basement filled with a steam cloud. It occurred due to the heating pipes that were part of the old central heating system for the campus. As a result, some work on the foundation area of Abercrombie had to be done.
Ron commented that one of the engineers divulged to him that it was incredible that one portion of Walker did not collapse as there was nothing holding it up. He also explained that it was almost a miracle that the staircases did not collapse as they were not up to code. He explained that stairs that used to be called the “Senior Staircase” is not up to code, and again, is not fully stable. That is one of the reasons that the architects have chosen to remove it. It’s removal will create more space, especially for the classrooms that will be added on the second floor.
I hope we have a mild winter as I don’t think they will be able to resolve the heating issues. The room that is the remaining area of where the Pit Theater was is unfinished at this point, but will be a very nice space. I think the area where the business office will be is an improvement for them and I like the extra space that Admissions now has.