Excerpt from The Boston Globe:

The limestone figure had gazed out onto the campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a century, holding a ball next to its head in a symbol of the importance of physical education.

This week, it was time for the “grotesque” to come down. Thirty-three others like it will soon fall, as WPI prepares to demolish the Alumni Gymnasium in favor of a new academic and residential building.

The grotesques have a special place in the lore of the institution, so WPI wants to save them for use in the new structure. But because of their age, even the engineering-focused school couldn’t tell whether the figures would crumble when they were moved.

“I think a lot of people over the years have viewed these as kind of a fun and quirky and interesting architectural oddity,” said Alfredo DiMauro, assistant vice president for facilities at WPI. “Not every campus has them, and they’ve been part of the campus for 100 years. Some people would be sad to not see them around anymore.”

As workers mounted a lift and cut into the mortar surrounding the first grotesque on Wednesday, however, school officials had some peace of mind that they’d be able to preserve the icons even if something went wrong.

The school had commissioned a South End company to create three-dimensional laser scans of all 34 grotesques. (The figures aren’t considered gargoyles because they don’t act as water spouts.)

Before the removal, a crew mapped the contours of the figures using hand-held devices with powerful sensors that take tens of thousands of readings per second. The result will be a detailed computer model that could help remake any that are damaged in the transfer.

“If something unfortunate were to happen, we would have already had a 3-D model, if we wanted to re-create something,” said Michael Kearns, a 1998 WPI graduate who is now working on the project as regional manager for Shawmut Design and Construction.

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