Chapman and The Gifford School’s Historic Relationship

Earlier this month, Chapman completed a major interior and exterior restoration of The Gifford School’s main building, the historic Lemuel Jones House. In a construction sense, the renovation of the 225-year-old structure was an interesting, deeply-satisfying project for all involved. In a larger context, the project can be seen as the crowning achievement of the 15-plus year relationship between Chapman and Gifford, a relationship that has involved many of Chapman’s long-term team members and saw the school replace, repair, or renovate nearly every room and building on its campus.

The Gifford School, a day school for special-needs students, was founded in 1964 by educator Margaret Gifford. Originally housed in Cambridge, the school relocated to its present site in Weston in 1971. Chapman became involved with Gifford School in 1990 when Gifford Director Mike Bassichis, Gifford Board President Phil Ortins, and Chapman President John Hall drafted a master plan for the school’s campus. Over the intervening fifteen years, as funds for the non-profit institution have allowed, Chapman has overseen the school’s multiple major and minor renovations, furthering Margaret Gifford’s original vision.

This most recent project—the restoration of the school’s trademark main building—was initially defined as a straightforward exterior restoration, including new windows, roofing, siding, paint finishes, and minor landscaping upgrades. However, it turned out to be a project of a much grander scale, by most accounts the most challenging undertaking in the fifteen years that Chapman and Gifford had worked together.

“Through those years, if perhaps subconsciously, I think we all managed to avoid dealing with the inevitable—the deteriorating historic Jones house,” explains Chapman President John Hall. “That is, until Mike Bassichis gave us the call this past winter.”

The exploratory removal of select clapboards revealed sagging in the wall and roof system above the building’s front entrance. Walls to the left and right of the porch had been taking on water for decades due to failing flashing and gutter detail, and structural posts and beams were rotted throughout. Further exploration in the roof revealed extensive damage and rot from particularly destructive pests, powder-post beetles.

“With the extent of the rot and damage, it was amazing that the building was still standing,” adds Project Manager Steve Vogt, who has been involved with all of Chapman’s Gifford projects.

“We quickly realized that we needed to modify our approach to this project,” relates Supervisor Bill Rich. “As always, we were dedicated to doing things once, and in the right way.”

In the wake of these discoveries, engineer David Berg, of DM Berg Consulting Engineers, was called in to assess the situation and offer his guidance in rectifying the situation. Berg designed a new structural steel reinforcing grid to replace the water-damaged timber frame in the front elevation, and the rotten roof was removed and re-framed with new engineered lumber.

As the building’s exterior was being repaired, it became clear that the building’s interior finishes were showing signs of wear and tear from all the exterior stress. Recognizing that restoring the building’s interior would afford the opportunity to raise the third-floor ceilings and straighten the existing wall framing, Gifford Director Mike Bassichis made the decision to expand the scope of the project. What had begun as minor exterior work had become a full interior-exterior restoration.

“The scope of the project changed to involve inside work. The entire inside had to be worked on: HVAC, rugs, paints, stairway, etc. It was a project that got out of control,” recounts Gifford Director Mike Bassichis. “However, working with Chapman they found solutions to all the problems and while it was expensive, they got it all done beautifully.”

So, now 15 years after Chapman first began working on the Gifford campus, the Jones House truly lives up to its designation as The Gateway to Weston. “This old house is now brand new,” says Bassichis. “They pulled it apart and then put it back together.”

This project, perhaps more than any other in Chapman’s long history with Gifford, was a truly collective effort by Chapman’s capable staff. And it’s clear that hard work does not go unnoticed—Bassichis has nothing but praise for the entire Chapman team. “They are wonderful and skilled craftsmen,” he says, “an outstanding group.”


published 08.25.2005

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