A ventilation tunnel dating from the 1890s was uncovered during site work at Colegrove Park Elementary School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Renovation work on Colegrove Park Elementary School continues to uncover historic elements of the 125-year-old property.
Last week, crews were stumped by the appearance of brick-lined "tunnels" under the now demolished gym.
Historical Commission Chairwoman Justyna Carlson on Monday explained that the mysterious features date back to a previous iteration of the school.
"We looked back in the June 2006 [newsletter] of the Historical Society and it had the drawings in of the ventilation system which was put in in the 1890s," she told the School Building Committee.
Apparently, Carlson said, "they had trouble with the latrines."
Kristian Whitsett, designer with Jones Whitsett Architects, said they suspected that was the case because the tunnels were closed off at each end.
"Our guess was that it might be part of an old ventilation system in the old building," he said. "We came across a diagram at one point."
Vertical vents would have transitioned into the horizontal shafts.
The "tunnels" date from the second building on the site that replaced the original Drury Academy. A third structure built in 1915, the current one, is being renovated into an elementary school set to open in fall 2015.
The construction has uncovered arches and other details, as well as a brick exterior from the older building that was incorporated into the newer one.
Preservation of the historic details has been an important part of the renovation. Whitsett said terra cotta elements found in the building have been removed to prevent more damage.
"The other preservation challenge is in what was the library and what will be the library," he said. "The wood pieces will have to be documented and replaced once structural walls are taken out."
The coffered ceilings of the former-future library will be restored.
Site work is nearly complete and utilities have been tied into the street. There has been more concrete, "much more," in the basement areas than anticipated, said Whitsett.
The library created when the building became a middle school has been gutted in preparation of becoming the new gym.
"They've taken the balcony out and it's one big space and it looks pretty cool," said Margo Jones of Jones Whitsett.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the the work so far is within the contingency budget.
"We haven't hit the contingencies hard at this point," he said.
The problematic retaining wall on the west side of the building may finally be resolved, he said, although the comment prompted chuckles from the committee members.
The city has been trying to reach a deal for many months with Carver Family Dentristry to access the practice's parking lot to build a second wall in front of the deteriorating stone wall.
Alcombright said it was a matter of fine-tuning the language with the anticipation of work beginning around Sept. 9 and being completed by Sept. 30.
"It will be less intrusive on the property owner than we had thought it would be," said the mayor.
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