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by Mark Reutter4:38 pmSep 28, 20180

City Hall, under structural stress, to undergo exterior rebuilding

Restoration tab is estimated at more than $17 million. BREW EXCLUSIVE.

Above: The seat of Baltimore government is still not functioning. (Mark Reutter)

The seat of Baltimore government is springing leaks.

Last month, the sudden heavy dripping of water into the balcony above the City Council chamber disrupted a hearing about police officer shortages and overtime costs.

This week, the Board of Estimates transferred $3.93 million in municipal bond money to the “stone walls” account in response to this warning by the Department of General Services:

“The exterior stone at City Hall is deteriorating at a rapid rate and immediate restoration is required.”

Rainwater drips into the Council chambers during a hearing on August 13. (Fern Shen)

Rainwater drips into the City Council balcony during a sudden thunderstorm on August 13. The streaming water fell from several points, saturating a partly removed hung ceiling and settling on the Council’s wooden benches and burgundy red carpet. See more below. (Fern Shen)

These funds will bankroll the first year of a multi-year project that officials say could cost more than $17 million.

The project is aimed at stabilizing and restoring the facade of the ornate French Second Empire pile, especially the stained-glass dome and slate roof that sprung the leak on August 13 in the Council chambers.

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Ryan Trout, a spokesman for General Services, told The Brew that the building’s facade is expected to undergo 11 phases of stabilization and reconstruction starting next spring.

The facade, consisting of Beaver Dam white marble and a cast-iron dome designed by famous railroad bridge-builder Wendel Bollman, has experienced its share of slippages over the years.

In 1959, 15 pounds of ornamental iron came loose and crashed into the Board of Estimates hearing room. In October 2012, a chunk of marble plunged 100 feet onto Guilford Avenue. Neither resulted in injuries.

The latter incident resulted in the city paying $60,000 to a contractor to undertake a “light tapping” of the exterior walls and producing a report about stones in immediate danger of crumbling.

In 1959, 15 pounds of ornamental iron crashed into the Board of Estimates hearing room.

Making the building free of water damage, falling objects and structural cracks and fissures are top priorities of the restoration, according to Trout.

Built before the age of steel, the six-story building is held aloft by multiple courses of brick.

Restoration work will include patching, re-pointing and, in some cases, replacing sections of brick and marble where the material has eroded beyond repair.

“Preservation of the historic building fabric has been and continues to be an important consideration for this project,” Trout explained in an email.

“DGS in-house preservation specialists helped guide the design process and will continue to ensure that the work is done to preservation standards throughout construction.”

The original building was completed under a hailstorm of “public excitement.”

The repairs come on the heels of the last restoration of City Hall in 1975-77, which greatly expanded the building’s usable floor space and modernized its obsolete HVAC systems.

That rebuild cost a little less than $10 million, or (discounting inflation) roughly half of the projected cost of the latest project.

Plaque commemorating the rebuilding of City Hall under Mayor William Donald Schaefer in 1977. Notice the cost of renovation. (Fern Shen)

Plaque commemorating the renovation of City Hall in 1977. Note the project’s reported cost: $9,825,052. (Fern Shen)

The building currently houses the elected offices of the mayor, comptroller and City Council as well as various boards and small agencies.

Flanking the building on Holliday, Fayette and Lexington streets are the mostly nondescript buildings occupied by Public Works, Housing, Fire, Transportation, Police and other departments.

When City Hall was completed in 1875 following years of fiscal turmoil, charges of corruption and “public excitement” (according to historian Matthew A. Crenson), its price tag was $2 million in contemporary coinage.

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