Historic Building Renovation
Avon Old Farms School was recently the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the State of Connecticut, utilizing Community Investment Act funds administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development. The grant was Avon’s second from the Historic Restoration Fund, and was matched by the school; it was awarded to restore the roof, roof structure, and exterior envelope of the Forge, one of the first buildings constructed on the school’s campus.
Foundations for the Forge, Water Tower, Wheelwright Shop, and Carpenter Shop (now known as the Chapel) were laid in 1922; Avon Old Farms School opened its doors in 1927. The Forge is a signature building; architecturally unique, it was also essential to the design and construction of the original school campus. The building, which was not originally intended to function as a finished space, was created as a working forge in support of the construction of the school. It is a touchstone of the school’s history and its creation.
The Forge was used throughout the construction of Mrs. Riddle’s core campus buildings, and it provided all metal items such as hinges, door latches, lanterns, and the railings that can be viewed throughout the campus. Although its use as a working forge has long since been abandoned, as one of the school’s first buildings, it has retained its importance as a classroom and meeting space. The deterioration of the roof of the Forge has jeopardized the building’s durability, leading to the reconstruction.
The 10-year Strategic Plan adopted by the Avon Old Farms School Board of Directors in 2009 states, as one of its primary goals, “we will be caring stewards of Mrs. Riddle’s remarkable campus.” The first step was to begin a systematic restoration of the aging roofs and exterior walls in the historic core campus, which, over time, have begun to deteriorate and leak. As part of this planning effort, the Forge is being used as a demonstration model to discern and exhibit appropriate and historically accurate repair and restoration techniques and procedures. It is an integral part of the phased maintenance and preservation effort to which Avon Old Farms School is committed. Reflective of the Board of Directors’ and Headmaster’s commitment to maintain each of the original buildings to the highest standards, we will use what we learn from this comprehensive restoration to establish an all-inclusive set of procedures for the repair and maintenance of the many other roofs and exterior envelopes of the original buildings. Completing the Forge roof and masonry project, which was in the worst state of repair, is providing the much-needed protocols for what will become a multi-million dollar campus-wide restoration project over the coming years.
The comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the Forge roof and exterior envelope included the repair of the masonry roof, which required the roof removal at the south end of the building. It also included consolidation of historic plaster finishes on the underside of the roof prior to start of roofing work; new flashing system at roof/wall intersections; repointing of selective brownstone and brick masonry areas; and resetting of top courses of chimney. The school also has committed its own funds to additional restoration work that includes the window frame and inner sash, exterior doors, and structural repair of framing members. The roofing contractor was especially diligent in preserving as many existing slates from those taken off the Forge roof so that they could be reused, and saplings were cut from trees on our property for use as lath in the reconstruction of the roof, as they were when the building was originally built. Interestingly, the original quarry in New York State that produced the slates for Avon in the 1920s is still in operation and was able to supply new slates for the limited area of slate replacement that was required.
The work on the Forge roof and exterior envelope commenced in August 2011, and the majority of the restoration is complete. However, demolition revealed that the south facing chimney had more significant deterioration than anticipated, due to the presence of rotted wood between the surface slates and the masonry fire box below. The restoration work in this area will need to wait until spring of 2012 when the masons can be assured temperatures will not drop into the freezing range and jeopardize mortar mixes.