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Additional report by Neal Mitchell Associates

Additional report by Neal Mitchell Associates

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Published by masslive

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Published by: masslive on Apr 08, 2014
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Neal Mitchell Associates
1041 Sutton Street, Northbridge, MA 01534 Tel: 508-234-8646 Fax: 508-234-8759 e-mail: nmitchell2@aol.com
July 15, 2011
 Attorney Victor M. Anop
 Friends of Mater Dolorosa
103 Bridle Path Road Chicopee, MA 01013
RE: Structural Inspection – Mater Dolorosa Parish Church, Holyoke
Dear Attorney Anop: At your request, I have visited this church to conduct an initial structural review and verification of the alleged claim about the imminent structural failure of the bell-tower/steeple of this church. My visual inspection included extensive photographs along with sketches of the tower’s structural system. I have also reviewed the report
“Structural Conditions Assessment Report of the Mater Dolorosa Parish Church”
that was prepared by Engineering Design Associates, Inc. (EDA) of West Springfield. I am a Registered Structural Engineer in the State of Massachusetts (#18222), and I have been practicing structural engineering for the last 45 years. During that time I have been involved in the design and construction of buildings not only in this country but also in many countries around the world. I have also had extensive experience in the evaluation of existing structures to determine structural adequacy. Clearly the
 Mater Dolorosa Church
 is one of the architectural landmarks of Holyoke. It is an elegant  building with a cultural heritage that extends over 110 years. It would appear that this church is a cultural landmark as well as being an important architectural building in the community. I was impressed by the “character” of the church as a contributor to the overall fabric of the community. As a visiting Professor at the Department of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame I had the rare opportunity of having extensive architectural discussions on church architecture with the then Chairman of the Department of Architecture. At the time he was considered one of the world’s leading scholars on the design of Catholic churches. I believe that he would have considered the
 Mater Dolorosa Church
 as an American Landmark. This church is clearly an architectural treasure. My inspection confirmed many of the observations reported by Engineering Design Associates, Inc in their revised Report of May 2, 2011. However, I take issue with some of the conclusions contained in that report as well as the priorities that were given for suggested repairs, as well as with the nature of some of the suggested repairs. I have been asked to investigate many churches around this state. The
 Mater Dolorosa Church
 is in the  best physical condition of any of the churches that I have investigated. However, for most churches the clergy’s program of ongoing maintenance is both poorly managed and also poorly implemented. The  problems that I observed at the
 Mater Dolorosa Church
 should have been addressed in any ongoing maintenance program. Therefore, perhaps it is best to first address some of the issues that were identified in the Engineering Design Associates, Inc. Report so that my overall comments can be put in context. This discussion will establish the lack of severity associated with the identified problems, and possible alternatives to consider for the necessary repairs.
EXTERIOR FRONT STAIRS I agree that all three front stairs require remedial work. The joins need to be filled with mortar, but the assertion that the foundations need to be repaired is really a significant “stretch”. Certainly minor maintenance procedures will make these steps usable, so the allegation for new foundations with an expenditure of $3,845 is hard to justify, when a cost of only $20 would be required to fill the open joints with mortar. Filling these joints would solve this problem. FIRST FLOOR There is no question that the rotted bean has caused the floor to drop creating a problem at the Altar. The simple solution is to jack this beam and to add a temporary support under the section of the beam that has not rotted. A more elegant solution would be to jack the beam and add flitch plates that extend from the un-rotted section to the beam to the support wall. These steel plates would re-establish the proper bearing capacity and necessary structural strength of the beam at the support. The EDA Report suggests that the replacement of this beam will cost $3,425 while the jacking and the addition of the flitch plates could  probably be implemented for a cost of about $250. BEARING WALL ASSEMBLY (Choir Loft) The wall cracks in the plaster finish in the choir loft occur at the interface between a stud wall and the  brick pier. Considering normal movements of materials it is clear that cracks often develop when different materials are adjacent to one another, and then the joint is covered by plaster. I do not believe that this is a structural crack. A proper expansion joint needs be added at this interface of two materials. The estimated cost of this repair in the EDA Report is $2,565. Although rated as Priority #2 it could easily be relegated to Priority #5 without causing any problems in the church itself. This is simply a cosmetic problem that is easily repaired. It should probably be done under normal maintenance at a cost that would be less than the proposed EDA estimated cost. REPAIR AND REPLACE SLATE ROOFING In general a slate roof is considered to have a useful life of 100 years. It is clear that this roof has already lasted 110 years with minor repairs. It is clear that additional minor repairs are required to replace broken or missing slates. It is also clear that overall wear on the roof is beginning to show with slate deterioration. At some point the entire roof will need to be repaired. Generally this is an expensive undertaking so I suggest setting up a re-roofing fund with the goal of replacing this slate roof in five to six years. If leaks develop then this program will need to be accelerated, but if the repairs are both small and effective this re-roofing effort could easily be pushed to ten years. However, it is also clear that this roof will need complete replacement at some point in the future because it is showing the deterioration that occurs when the slates finally wear out. The cost of a new slate roof will be expensive and the suggestion of the EDA Report to replace the lower roof first is an interesting first step in the overall roof repair. REPAIR CONCLUSIONS FOR THE MAIN CHURCH Most of the repairs for the main church are trivial in cost. My guess is that the identified issues could be cleared up with the normal maintenance budget for this building. The only expensive and critical undertaking would be the slate roof and I believe that this issue can be dealt with in five to ten years although the Church should be setting funds aside for this repair at some time in the future.

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