By Dennis Riley
The Hull Historical Commission will hold a public forum this Tuesday, Feb. 2, to see if there is a consensus to spend money on the rehabilitation of the Fort Revere Water Tower.
The tower is a first-of-its-kind steel-reinforced concrete and brick structure. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and carries a preservation restriction.
There are several issues in the CBI engineering report to consider. Most of the report concerns what are generally cosmetic and minor structural issues. Our commission recommends addressing these according to the CBI report, while adhering to the secretary of the interior’s Standards for Historic Restoration.
The interior of the tower has several structural issues that need to be addressed; the water tank, the observation deck and its support beams, and the stairway to the deck are all compromised. The commission has spoken with Paul Holtz, of the Massachusetts Historical Commission. It would be allowable to support the observation deck by building up from the water tank for support. The structural integrity of the tank would need to be evaluated. This could be a cost-saving solution.
As for the stairway, its construction and structural integrity will need to be evaluated. It could be restored or replaced according to the evaluation.
On the subject of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, wheelchair accessibility to the platform is probably too costly, and a variance could be obtained from the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board as “cost to compliance is unreasonable.” An alternative could be a “programmatic” phone app or even a kiosk replicating the views from the deck via live feed. This is likely admissible. A parking space with wheelchair accessibility needs to be designed and approved. The first step is to apply to the MAAB for a variance.
As for egress, the 22-inch-wide spiral stairway to the deck is not code compliant. By code there also needs to be a second means of egress. However, this is a historic structure and has some special dispensations. If we do nothing on this, a variance could be obtained, but it could limit or even make it so that the platform access is only accessible to service personnel to work on the equipment. A second means of egress could be a stairway constructed inside the tank to the deck. Again, a variance regarding this could be obtained.
The project could be done in stages. The historical commission recommends that the town first address the platform and its support as an emergency permit. Structural evaluation of the tank and stairway using concrete scanning technology can be done. While it is underway, variances need to be applied for and approved for egress and ADA compliance.
The Hull Historical Commission will be open to other approaches as a result of this hearing.
Dennis Riley is chairman of the Hull Historical Commission.