Historic school building trades places for library

Employees of Geddes Building Movers of Bow, N.H., prepared to move the 136-year-old Colburn School building so that a new town library can be built in its place in Westwood. Employees of Geddes Building Movers of Bow, N.H., prepared to move the 136-year-old Colburn School building so that a new town library can be built in its place in Westwood. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / December 30, 2010

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WESTWOOD — The road trip has begun for the former Colburn School, which was inched off its 136-year-old stone foundation last week in the first of several moves to make way for a new town library.

In an attempt to beat the bad weather, workers from Geddes Building Movers of Bow, N.H., spent last Wednesday and Thursday pushing the three-story Victorian structure off its longtime perch in the High Street Historic District. Workers raised the old structure onto rollers that were then chained to a backhoe, a Bobcat, and a crane truck — a delicate, painstaking task.

“I’d say that on a scale of one to 10, it was a nine,’’ said the moving company’s president, Rick Geddes. “The size is the biggest thing.’’

The 50- by 60-foot building weighs 200 tons, he said, and was moved into the parking lot. It is the company’s second historical moving job in Westwood after helping to relocate the Obed Baker house eight years ago, Geddes said.

The company moves between 50 and 75 structures a year, he said, of which about 15 to 20 are historical buildings.

Because of business conflicts, and the holidays, work was suspended until Jan. 4, when workers are scheduled to complete the move of the Colburn to the rear of its current 660 High St. location, officials said. There it will sit until the new $14 million library is completed, and the Colburn will be moved a final time, to the current library site at 668 High St.

At that point, the Colburn will be ready to be restored for use by the community, said Peter Paravalos, the new chairman of the town’s Historical Commission.

A structural engineer and architectural historian, Paravalos helped move the Highland Light in Truro in 1994, and was involved in historical preservation projects on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, and in New Hampshire.

Also the author of the book “Moving a House With Preservation in Mind,’’ he has said the Colburn would be ideal for private development, local artists, nonprofit entities, or even town offices.

The old school is named for Warren Colburn, a descendant of the town’s earliest settlers and a famed mathematician.

In the early 1800s he wrote “First Lessons in Intellectual Arithmetic,’’ which at the time sold an unprecedented 2 million copies.

Library director Tom Viti said he expects the parking lot to be open through Jan. 3, when it will be closed for the two-day duration of the remainder of the move.

Westwood voters agreed last spring to foot their share of the nearly $14 million bill for the new library, raising property taxes by $9.3 million through a Proposition 2 1/2 tax-limit override. A $4 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, along with private donations totaling almost $1 million, will make up the rest.

Bids for library construction are expected in late January, with ground to be broken by spring. The project is targeted for completion in 2012.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at