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City Hall masonry work to begin soon

August 16, 2011

WOONSOCKET — A Providence company hired to rebuild portions of the masonry facade of City Hall that were damaged by frost is expected to begin work in a few days, says Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran.
RD Preservation Inc. will start by erecting scaffolding around around the Main and Court street portions of the building after finalizing the details of its $194,000 contract.
In mid-February, the city barricaded the sidewalks in those areas after large granite blocks and bricks from the facade of the building became loose, posing a danger to pedestrians.
The problem developed for the same reason that potholes emerge in roads, says McGauvran. Over time, the structural materials become increasingly porous, absorbing moisture. The repeated freeze and thaw cycle of winter causes the moisture to act like a pry bar, destabilizing the materials to the point of disintegration.
“The water got in behind the bricks and granite, froze and caused movement,” said McGauvran. “A lot of the mortar is deteriorated.”
Based on a study by Odeh Engineering, the problem areas have been identified as a dogleg-shaped section of granite on the northernmost corner of the Main Street facade; the roofline parapet parallel to Court Street; and several irregularly-shaped sections of brick on the Court Street facade.
Unfortunately, the mural on the Court Street facade featuring McCarthy's Department Store and other now-defunct Main Street landmarks will be marred by the repair work. The replacement bricks won't match those of the existing building, either, says McGauvran, but it's the price of safety.
RD Preservation was one of six companies that bid for the repair job and was recommended to the City Council two weeks ago as the lowest bidder, according to McGauvran.
The bid was unexpectedly low, which turned out to be lucky for the city because it had only budgeted $200,000 for the work, said McGauvran. Indeed, the other companies vying for the job were asking as much as $548,500.
“We thought we'd only be able to do part of the work with the money we budgeted,” she said. “We were very lucky, largely because in this economy the job prices are coming in very good.”
Built in 1891, City Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it's actually only a portion of the Main Street landmark that houses the offices of local government.
The building is an addition to what is officially known as Harris Hall, often noted as the site where Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in March 1860 as he campaigned for president.

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