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Rose-Tinted Vision

Project: The Granite Building, Milford, MA

Architect: Amsler Mashek MacLean Architects Inc., Boston, MA

Landscape Architect: Architerra Inc., Boston, MA

General Contractor: Consigli Construction Co., Inc., Milford, MA; Chris Dabek, project manager; Mike Murphy, pre-construction manager; Bob Barry, project superintendent

By Lynne Lavelle

Since its discovery in the 1870s, Milford Pink, the unique pink granite of Milford, MA, has been prized for its durability and subtle, mica-flecked color. Among the many public buildings and monuments that contain Milford Pink are the Statue of Liberty (its base) and both Penn and Grand Central stations in New York City; the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC; and the Boston Public Library.

Before the stone sparked a quarrying boom, Milford was a thriving manufacturing center for shoes and boots. However, its economy and demographics changed forever as stonecutters from Ireland, Italy and Scandinavia flocked to the new quarries and settled in the town. Milford met the needs of its expanding population with increased public building, much of which used its namesake stone. And for many residents, one particular pink granite building holds very special memories – the former St. Mary's Grammar School, which once stood on Winter Street.

Designed by Milford resident Robert Allen Cook, the two-story, 10,000-sq.ft Colonial Revival building was constructed in 1896 and served as St. Mary's until 1974 and as Milford's second Middle School from 1977, following its purchase and renovation by the town. It was ravaged by fire in 1985 and subsequently boarded up; to the consternation of locals, it remained that way for 17 years, becoming an eyesore and a hazard.

In 2002 the Milford School Building Committee hired consultants to complete a feasibility study on whether the "Granite Building" should be renovated or demolished. Its conclusion – that demolition was the only cost-effective solution – prompted Preservation Massachusetts to include the Granite Building on its list of "10 Most Endangered Buildings" that year and residents, many of whom had attended the school, to voice their opposition in the local papers and at Town Hall meetings.

Consigli Construction Co., Inc., a building company that has been based in Milford for more than 100 years, shared these concerns. Coincidentally, it was on the lookout for new premises, having outgrown its cramped headquarters on Milford's Main Street. Consigli required more office space than the existing Granite Building could provide, but was eager to incorporate it in its plans. "The owners have a really strong commitment to Milford," says Chris Dabek, project manager. "We're here to stay and we hold the Granite Building in great affection, as does much of the town. A good portion of the town attended school there, before and after it was transferred to the Milford school system, so they have a lot of stories about it. Like them, we wanted to see it retained, and used for something worthwhile."

Company president Anthony Consigli and vice president Matthew Consigli began negotiations with the town of Milford in 2004 to restore and reuse the building. However their options were severely limited by adjacent school buildings on three sides. With the possibility of building an extension onsite quickly discounted, they had an unusual idea: "Can we move it?"

They suggested dismantling the Granite Building brick by brick, transporting it and rebuilding it at a new location, a half-mile away on Sumner Street. Once relocated, a new 10,000-sq.ft. addition designed by Amsler Mashek MacLean Architects of Boston, MA, would be added. It was not the first time that Consigli had carried out a dismantle-and-rebuild project – Dabek, along with Consigli's pre-construction manager Mike Murphy and project superintendent Bob Barry, had overseen two, including a chapel tower restoration at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME.

Though that project had been completed in place, Consigli was confident that with the same team, the fundamentals would be the same. "We had taken down two 120-ft.-tall towers stone by stone [at Bowdoin College], cataloged everything and rebuilt, so we knew we could do it," says Dabek. "And fortunately we had the carpenters and laborers that we had worked with on those projects at our disposal, so we had the expertise for the job." The proposal received overwhelming support at a Town Hall meeting, and work began in January 2005. From the outset, the project goals were clear: to preserve as much of the historic fabric as possible; to supplement it with a high percentage of recycled/sustainable materials; and to utilize local suppliers and sub-contractors wherever possible.

The first task was to assess the condition of the building. As well as containing hazardous materials including asbestos, it had a broken second-floor skylight that had let rain in for years, and it was home to a colony of pigeons. The prognosis was not good: "The first time I opened up the doors and walked in, I fell through the first floor up to my knees," says Dabek. "So that told us that we were not going to be able to save much of the timber from inside. It was too far gone."

Once the unstable interior had been hollowed out, the process of cataloguing, dismantling and rebuilding the Granite Building from top to bottom began. Approximately 11,000 18x12-in. Monson Black slates were removed from the roof, of which roughly half were reinstalled. The remainder – like all of the unused materials – was sorted for recycling onsite (75% of the waste generated during construction was diverted from landfills). "The company is pretty adamant about onsite recycling," says Dabek. "And in an extensive reconstruction like this, you have to figure on losing a certain proportion of the original fabric. We sorted through each piece we had and evaluated them but it was 50/50."

The success rate was much improved with the wood roofing materials, all of which were usable. Six heavy timber trusses were documented, reinforced and removed, followed by more than 500 wood rafters. "Most of the wood was in good shape and required only minor reinforcing," says Dabek. "But removing it was still difficult and time-consuming. Because the interior was out we were able to get in there with lifts and document everything, so safety-wise it was much cleaner than it could have been. At least we didn't have to worry about anything falling down on us."

To assist with the documentation of the granite and brick back-up, Consigli contracted Boston-based Digital Geographic Technologies to conduct a laser survey of all four elevations. The survey corresponded with an onsite cataloguing system whereby each stone was numbered prior to removal, then placed in the appropriate basket for transportation to the site. Upon arrival, the number was cross-checked with the survey documents and 3-D computer modeling, to accurately pinpoint the position of each piece in the reconstruction. A total of 2,500 pieces of granite were removed and salvaged in this way, and most were in remarkably good condition. "The exterior of the building was built like a fortress," says Dabek. "Even though the interior had fallen apart due to water damage, the granite and brick had remained solid – as if the building had gone up yesterday. The granite pieces were large and rough-faced, so they were very durable. We were able to manhandle them a little in transportation and not worry too much."

As a new two-story addition would be added at the rear of the Granite Building, only its façade and sides were rebuilt at Sumner Street. "We didn't use the back of the building because it simply didn't make sense," says Dabek. "That wouldn't have flowed well with the very open interior plan we had in mind." The exterior, which clearly differentiates between old and new, is in stark contrast with the cohesive interior. A large skylight links the granite building with the new steel-framed wing and floods the open desk area with natural light. In keeping with the company's recycling policy, salvaged wood from buildings slated for demolition was used throughout – floorboards from Boston College High School, decking from a warehouse in Worcester, MA, and rafters from a late-19th century home in Brooklyn, NY.

Consigli's new headquarters were unveiled in June of 2006, to the delight of its staff and Milford residents alike. "They love it," says Dabek. "Aesthetically, the front of the building looks just like it did back in 1896. Even though there may be some purists who object to it being moved, I think most people appreciate that if we hadn't done this, bits and pieces of the Granite Building would be scattered all over somebody's junkyard." It is hoped that Consigli's creative approach to building preservation will set a new precedent in the state of Massachusetts, which didn't award historic tax credits for the project. "Nobody had ever done it before, so it was viewed as a little odd," says Dabek. "It is unfortunate that once you move an original building, you can't qualify for assistance, even if you have gone above and beyond to do the right thing. We are hoping that this project makes a case for that to change." TB

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