Precision Tech to Help Restore Massachusetts Historical Site

A laser scan of the Mission Chapel in Worcester will ensure the architectural details inform the renovation process. The scan unobtrusively collects millions of data points, recording building dimensions down to ¼ inch.

by Cyrus Moulton, Telegram & Gazette / June 12, 2019
Worcester, Mass.

(TNS) — The windows are boarded up or bricked over. Two decades worth of dust and grime obscures the cornice and the wooden spindles on the original staircase.

But with new laser technology, the architectural details hidden in the Mission Chapel are being revealed, catalogued, and marked for preservation, thanks to a pro-bono effort by a surveying firm to scan local historic properties.

"For historic preservation this is just great, because you can scan these things and see all the brick and mortar joints," said Michael Feldman, president and CEO of Feldman Surveyors, a Roxbury-based firm that recently opened a second office, in Worcester. "This is the future of design."

The Mission Chapel was built in 1854 by industrialist and philanthropist Ichabod Washburn and has served as a chapel for many immigrant groups, as a food distribution center and as office space over its life, according to Preservation Worcester. The building at 205 Summer St. building was last used as the Second Baptist Church from 1960 to 1994.

The Worcester Redevelopment Authority took the church by eminent domain in 1993 to facilitate the planned Medical City, now known as St. Vincent Hospital. But in the end the property wasn't needed for the project and the building dodged the wrecking ball.

Now the 8,268-square-foot building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is proposed for residential or mixed use - that means it could have office space as well as housing - to be developed by Traggorth Companies LLC, based in Boston.

So Mr. Feldman is using the laser scan to ensure the architectural details inform the renovation process. The scan unobtrusively collects millions of data points, recording building dimensions down to ¼ inch. Architects can use the resulting three-dimensional digital model of the building to create floor plans and renderings, and to ensure that often delicate details are preserved.

Should anything unexpected happen to the building during renovations, the digital scan also serves as a historical record - making future renovations or restorations possible and not dependent on old photographs.

"We think this was a fantastic idea," Amy Skrzek of Traggorth said. "It will help our architects as well as help from a preservation standpoint."

Preservation Worcester Executive Director Deborah Packard said the scanning method was useful in the reconstruction of the clock tower at Worcester State Hospital, enabling preservationists to document where every individual brick, stone or architectural detail was located. She and Mr. Feldman both noted that the method was used in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and will be used to aid reconstruction of the church, which was damaged in a fire in April.

"It's a really interesting, I think, valuable process to use for historic preservation," Ms. Packard said. "It shows the structural integrity of the building. It also might show areas of concern that might not be visible from the naked eye, and it's non-intrusive, so you're not actually touching something, which is nice."

Mr. Feldman said his firm plans to scan two historic buildings a year in Worcester at no charge, to digitally document the city's architectural history.

"We need to do it," Mr. Feldman said. "In this country we don't think of our heritage this way and we have beautiful buildings here."

©2019 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.