Weather-related damage to the War Memorial Tower at the summit of Mount Greylock has forced state officials to block access to the stairway and the beacon chamber at the top of the tower: Both have been determined to be unsafe and are closed until further notice.
State officials have contracted with DHK Architects to evaluate the tower and determine the best course of action to repair and seal it against the harsh mountaintop elements. The summit of Mount Greylock is 3,491 feet above sea level and the tower -- overlooking five states on a clear day -- rises 93 feet above that. From the top of the tower, visitors have a 360-degree view up to 90 miles away.
According to Becky Barnes, team leader for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) Greylock complex, although the tower's lobby area remains open, access to the stairs and tower will likely remain closed at least through the summer of 2014.
The exact nature of the project, its cost, time frame and source of funding will not be determined until the engineering study of the structure can be completed.
"Early this spring when we were getting ready to open the roads and the tower, we determined that the tower was unsafe," Barnes said. "There were chunks coming down off the walls, and electrical fixtures that were ready to fall. It just wasn't safe to open under those conditions.
The problem is a constant plague of moisture from leaks caused by endless freezing, thawing and condensation that comes with extreme weather and temperature changes.
Barnes noted that every winter, the south side of the tower is completely coated by ice, or hard rime frost, and that kind of natural freezing and thawing cycle is hard to protect against.
Throughout the history of the tower, the elements have posed a challenge with moisture creeping into the cracks in the granite stonework and freezing, causing the smaller cracks to grow.
According to Bill Hickey, spokesman for the DCR, since the tower was completed in 1932, there have been three major renovations to it.
In 1973, the state disassembled and totally reconstructed it. There were also drainage and ventilation improvement projects completed in both 1987 and 1997.
"That tower sits at the highest point in Massachusetts and endures extreme weather conditions year round," Hickey said. "It really takes a beating."
The War Memorial Tower was built with granite blocks in 1931-32 for about $200,000. It was designed by Boston-based architects Maginnis & Walsh, and built by contractors J.G. Roy & Son of Springfield.
The dedication of the tower in 1933 was performed by then-Gov. Joseph P. Ely with about 1,500 people in attendance, and was broadcast nationally on the NBC radio network.
The beacon itself, originally meant to perpetually shine in memory of men and women lost in World War I (and since then all other U.S. military personnel losses), is now powered by three 1,500-watt bulbs and can be seen up to 70 miles away.
According to Barnes, the beacon is extinguished three to four times a year to facilitate safe travel of migratory birds in the spring and fall and a couple of "star parties" every summer during which astronomers study the stars from the summit.
Since most of the tower has been closed, visitors have expressed some disappointment, but still say they enjoy visit because of the summit's other charms.
"People are very disappointed, especially some of the kids," Barnes said. "A lot of them come up here excited to climb the tower, and for some of them, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
But the risk of injury is too great to allow access, Barnes noted.
"It will stay closed until it is fixed," she said. "And it will probably take at least a full season to repair."
The role the tower plays to the reservation is significant, Barnes said.
"It's a really important feature for the mountain and for Massachusetts," she said.
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