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Article Published May 29, 2015
Back on Top in Branford
Academy Cupola Returns
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

It's been missing for months, but the cupola is finally back on top at the historic Academy on the Branford green.

The topper was removed last fall and taken away to be made watertight, after the town went into action to replace the eight rotting wooden pillars supporting what many call the Academy's "bell tower." The replacement job was undertaken by Branford's M.N. Reale Construction LLC. Proprietor Matt Reale said the fix was badly needed.

"It wasn't technically a restoration because a lot of the woodwork and millwork up there was in such bad shape, there was no way any of it could be re-used again," said Reale.

The replacement columns, milled by Branford woodworker Jeff Haynes of J&R Haynes LLC, are as close to an exact match to the originals as possible, said Reale.

"The new columns are milled to within an eighth of an inch of what came down originally," said Reale.

Haynes also milled replacement dentil moldings and crown.

"Anything we couldn't purchase stock, he made for us," said Reale.

During a two-hour operation on the morning of May 29, a crane lifted the dome-shaped lid off the ground and onto the eight carefully replicated columns. Reale said he knows the return of the cupola seems like it was a long time coming, but factors including the long winter and soft and muddy ground this spring kept the project from completion any sooner.

"The first week we got nice weather, I started hearing, '...when's it going up?'" said Reale. "I'd say I wanted it out of my shop as badly as they wanted it back up. We just needed to wait for the ground to harden up enough to bring in the crane."

While Reale and his Academy work crew (Brian Dostie, Mike Buydos, John Limone, Mark Dostie, John Nilsson and Jim Boisseau) waited to finish work on one of Branford's oldest iconic structures, the company stayed busy working one of Branford's newest landmarks – the Stony Creek Brewery building on Indian Neck Avenue. The two-story structure opened for business in March and has already made its mark as a popular warm weather destination, thanks in part to generous decks installed by M.N. Reale Construction.

"We were blessed with being over at the brewery all winter, doing all the exterior work as a subcontractor for Munger Construction Co.," of Branford said Reale, who oversaw the completion of the brewery's upper and lower deck and rail system, siding, trim, entry way structure and pergola, board walk and bocci court. The brewery is owned by the Crowley family of Branford, which made an effort to retain as many local companies as possible as part of the building process.

On May 29, Reale's crew was back on the town green, this time aloft in cherry pickers, to help guide the cupola onto 16-foot columns they'd installed earlier in the week.

Reale said the operation followed his expectation that the job would be completed "flawlessly."

"All the guys up there are good mechanics," said Reale, who established his company in 2008 and learned much of his trade working with local company Bruce Pantani & Sons Builders (Branford).

Now that the top is up, some additional work will continue to complete the job, but the Academy building will be ready well before Branford's next big event on the green, the Branford Festival (opening June 19). Being a lifelong Branford resident made doing the work on the Academy building a bit more special, Reale added.

"We plan on putting small envelope inside with the names of everybody who worked on it and seal it up in the tower. Hopefully someone will see it one day and get a chuckle at it," said Reale.

The town's $55,000 budget for the replacement project was authorized with monies set aside in the town budget beginning several years ago (the last $15,000 was added in 2013). As previously reported in The Sound, Branford Town Historian and Academy on the Green Commission chair Jane Bouley noted the Academy building has been moved three times since it was first constructed, saying "...it's amazing it wasn't torn down in all those years."

The Academy was built as private school by a minister of Branford's First Congregational Church, using his own money. It went on to become property of the Masons until the organization turned it over to the Town of Branford some 40 years ago. The town established the Academy on the Green Commission in 1972.

The building was originally constructed on the site of the current Town Hall, then was moved behind the Town Hall and finally came to rest at its current location at the corner of Montowese Street and South Main Street during a successful community effort to move it in the 1970's.