In December 2004, fire tore through the Wilder Building, requiring over 150 firefighters from three states to control the blaze. Stevens & Associates was called in immediately to assess whether it was safe for firefighters to enter the building, then again later, to determine if the building could be saved.
Restoring the building was no easy matter—the fire had done extensive damage to both finishes and structural members, and the scope of the project was very large in comparison to available funding from non-profits, as well as state and federal agencies. Design and construction had to be completed in roughly 18 months, and the productive relationship of the owners, design team, and contractors played a vital role in the completion of the project under budget and ahead of schedule.
S&A spearheaded the effort to restore the building and bring it up to code, allowing the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust to provide affordable housing, art space, and retail space in the downtown corridor.
The project team was able to save many historic elements of the building. Items such as wood framing, iron keys from the original post and beam construction, and pressed tin ceilings were removed. A concrete bond beam was installed around the upper perimeter of the building for stability, and laminated veneer lumber beams were used to match the historic framing patterns and make use of the existing beam pockets. Fire proofing was installed and the ceilings were reestablished.
Stabilizing the upper floors was a difficult problem. The internal structure had been completely destroyed and the shell had to be reinforced first with a wood bracing system, then with concrete bond beams. The lower floors suffered heavy water damage and had to be improved and reinforced so the internal structure could be reestablished on the top floors. The new structure was then mechanically tied into the brick facade. Sections of the first floor also had to be removed to accommodate a new handicap ramp.
The Wilder Building is an important element of the fabric of downtown Brattleboro. The community support, in the form of private donations, public meetings, and good will helped add a source of pride to the project. This project offers an example of how a damaged historic building can be made safer and stronger with modern materials.