If you’ve been in downtown Jackson recently you may have noticed that the Capitol has sprouted scaffolding.
According to MDAH’s Mississippi History Newsletter (Fall 2014):
A repair and restoration project is underway at the State Capitol that will leave the 111-year-old structure in its best shape in decades. Priorities are to address longtime water leaks, replace materials damaged by water and weather, and clean the exterior. “Leaks have occurred regularly in some part of the capitol since its construction,” said Lawson Newman, project architect (of WFT Architects). “Unfortunately, persistent leaks are common in structures with complex roofs like this one.”
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Scaffolding and an elevator have been installed to roof level on most of the circa-1903 building, and work will progress around the exterior as crews clean the limestone and granite panels and replace the sealant between them. “Much of the work is not complicated, but it will require going over every square inch of the stone cladding,” Newman said. “On a building the size of the capitol it will require significant time just to complete the job.” The entire project is expected to take 24 months.
Some of the more visible work will be done at the building’s highest point–regilding the copper eagle atop the main dome. A sheet metal railing that was installed in the early 1970s around the lantern on top of the main dome will be removed and replaced with a replica of the original terra cotta railing, under the supervision of Boston Valley Terra Cotta, an industry leader that has been in business since 1889 in Orchard Park, New York.
“The capitol has not undergone a complete renovation since the early 1980s,” said Department of Finance and Administration executive director Kevin Upchurch. The 2012 Mississippi Legislature passed the $7.4 million bond project. WFT Architects in Jackson is the architecture firm for the project, and Johnson Construction in Jackson is the contractor, who will coordinate with specialized subcontractors on various jobs. “Everyone involved has gone to great lengths to ensure all subcontractors are well qualified and specialize in historic preservation projects,” said Brenda Davis, who serves as the MDAH curator of the state capitol. Davis is the liaison between the Bureau of Building, Capitol Police, the general contractor, the subcontractors, capitol staff, and members of the legislature and is in charge of coordinating the scheduling of the many phases of the restoration.
Jackson-based Pearl River Glass Studio will oversee the repairs to the seventy-five exterior stained glass windows, which will be removed and transported to the studio, disassembled, cleaned, repaired or restored as needed, reassembled with new leading, and put back in place at the capitol. “The three monumental windows on the north side are unique in that they use multiple plates that create a layered, three-dimensional effect,” said Pearl River founder Andy Young. “It will take about two months on each of those to carefully take them apart, clean, restore, and reassemble them.”
The Gilders’ Studio in Olney, Maryland, has completed projects on the Washington Monument and Georgia State Capitol Dome. Later this year they are scheduled to begin work on the iconic golden eagle on the main dome. The statue is made of stamped copper and covered in gold leaf. Scaffolding will be constructed to allow access to the piece, the remaining gold leaf and primer will be stripped away, and a fluoroscope will be used to inspect the statue’s interior for structural damage. The team will make surface repairs as needed, reapply primer to protect the statue, and then gild it with 23.75-karat gold leaf that is being made especially for this project in Florence, Italy.
The size of the eagle—eight feet tall and fifteen feet wide—combined with its materials make it unique, said the studio’s founder Michael Kramer, who has more than forty years’ experience as a gilder. “This thing is huge! Most of the large sculptures we deal with are bronze, but this one is copper,” he said. “It’s a wonderful piece.”
Other work will include the replacement of damaged terra cotta on the main dome, reglazing of the skylights over the House and Senate chambers, repair and replacement of roofing and flashing, and replacing broken concrete walkways. Mayrant and Associates, working with Scanlon-Taylor Millwork, both companies specializing in historic renovation and located in Jackson, will restore the building’s exterior wood windows. The four copper globe lights positioned around the base of the main dome and the exterior bronze light fixtures have been removed and will be restored by Robinson Iron in Alexander City, Alabama. Perhaps the most complicated undertaking will be the restoration of the main dome’s lantern, a cupola-like structure that sits atop the dome and is the base for the copper eagle. “The deterioration of the lantern will require us to dismantle the railing and columns to expose the steel structure so we can make the necessary repairs,” said Newman. More than 15,000 people took guided tours of the capitol during the first six months of 2014, and the restoration project will not affect ongoing tours. . . .
For more information and a photo of one of the stained glass windows under restoration at Pearl River Glass, see the full article at http://mdah.state.ms.us/new/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/fall2014-mhn.pdf