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History prevents Ayer from making Town Hall energy-efficient

Ayer Town Hall

By Hiroko Sato

AYER — The town’s plan to make Town Hall a model of energy-efficient living by replacing windows appeared to pan out last year when a single bid for the project came in under budget.

The $160,000 offer included fitting all 76 windows, including the oversized, custom-designed ones for the Greater Hall, with insulated glass. The contractor even proposed to make window frames forest-green to precisely match the color of the existing ones in the 144-year-old structure.

There was just one problem, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said. Only 40 percent of the materials used to make the window frames was real wood, though they looked so real that most people would not be able to tell the difference. But in the eyes of the state Historical Commission, it would be a violation of the preservation rules imposed on buildings listed on the state Register of Historic Places — and the agency wasn’t going to let the town get away with it.

The question is, Selectman Christopher Hillman said, how the town could use “native wood” to recreate the window frames as required by the agency and save energy and money.

Native wood means “things that rot,” Hillman said.

Selectmen are expressing their frustration again about the state Historical Commission’s decision from a year ago to prohibit the town from installing new windows and are directing the town administrator to make a new request for permission. This comes a year after the town’s all attempts to do so failed, including the state delegation’s discussions with the Commission.

With temperatures quickly dropping, the energy cost and the comfort of Town Hall employees are on the minds of selectmen. At the board meeting on Jan. 5, selectmen Chairwoman Jannice Livingston even suggested Pontbriand look into potential use of plastic cover for the windows in order to keep the heat from escaping.

The town needs the state agency’s permission to move forward with the window replacement because Town Hall is listed on the state Register of Historic Places — a prerequisite for the $100,000 grant the town received toward the renovation of the Great Hall in 2000-2001.

Pontbriand said the town has good reason to go synthetic. In the late 1990s, the town used weather stripping materials that the state agency informally recommended for windows and saw it already deteriorated by 2001.

According to the bidding document submitted by Renewal by Andersen, based out of Northboro, the synthetic window frames that the company was proposing never requires painting, does not excessively expand or contract due to temperatures and serves as a good insulator. The new glass was going to be 70 percent more energy efficient in the summer and 45 percent in the winter and block “up to 95 percent of harmful UV rays” — one of the features Town Hall employees are hoping for.

The proposed frames would not change the fenestration or the appearance of the windows, Pontbriand said.

Following the Historical Commission’s logic that a historic place must be kept intact in the original state, Hillman said. Then, the agency would have to direct the town to remove the handicap access from Town Hall and burn coal to heat the building, he said.

Pontbriand added that, in order to better keep the building closer to the original state, the Historical Commission had proposed attaching storm windows as a compromise energy efficiency solution. The town administrator assumes that the temporary nature of storm windows made it an acceptable option for the state agency. Attachment and removal of storm windows for the three-story building would be costly, however, Pontbriand said.

The window replacement project was an idea of the Energy Committee. On May 12, 2014, Town Meeting unanimously approved appropriation of $165,000 for the replacement of windows. Renewal by Andersen, based out of Northboro, was the only one responding to the bid and offered a $159,618 package. Windows are vital to preserving the integrity of the historic building, as well, Pontbriand added.

State Historical Commission did not return a call from Nashoba Valley Voice seeking comment.