Puttin’ on the shine


In a couple of weeks the dome of Warwick City Hall will be as shiny as a newly minted penny.

You won’t get the full view of this copper cap for some time because the scaffolding that has encased City Hall tower for most of the summer will still be in place. But at first glance, the dome will be the most notable result of a $772,035 project to restore and preserve a structure that has stood since 1893.

A lot more is going into the work. Bricks are being re-pointed, a job that has entailed cutting out crumbling mortar and tediously applying freshly mixed mortar. Balustrades have been removed. Some were foam-encased replicas of the mahogany originals that were thought to last for decades, but deteriorated when subjected to weather and sunlight. Copper urns that once graced the corners of tower levels were removed as they started to deteriorate but are now being replicated. The weather vane, which has gone without north and south points, is being fully reconditioned. The clock with its three faces – there was none on the north side – will get gold leafed numerals and hands.

But it’s probably what’s unseen that will do the most to prepare the tower for the next 115 years – maybe longer – of hurricanes, blizzards, pounding rain and baking sun.

Listening to Tuesday’s briefing between Trish Reynolds in the planning department, director of maintenance for city buildings, Joe Blake, and Robert O’Donnell and Nick Deschenes, of the general contractor EF O’Donnell and Sons, provided that insight.

What workers are discovering as they pull way the tin and cooper ornamentation is spongy wood. Columns that appeared to be solid have been left hollow from the rotting wood. Support beams have been similarly compromised.

O’Donnell wants to get the full picture as quickly as possible. He’s in a race with time, as he wants the job buttoned up before winter and freezing conditions arrive.

O’Donnell listens to the reports and Blake’s suggestion of drilling holes in the columns so as to insert a camera. It’s a possibility.

“We’ve got the dome area tight,” O’Donnell reports.

Rotten boards from the eight-sided dome – it’s not rounded, although it appears that way from the ground – have been removed and the entire edifice encased in a rubber-like sheathing that will repel water if the outer copper skin leaks.

There are questions about “sistering” a beam, and whether it will be as strong as the original. Blake expects there will be some “flexing” of the tower in high winds, but he’s convinced “it will be as strong as anything.”

The discussion turned to the dome. Clad in new copper, Blake said the dome will be shiny and reflective. It should then turn red, then brown, but it won’t be that coppery green for many years.

“It will be 100 years before the patina,” he says.

There’s discussion of chemical treatments designed to give the copper that aged look before its time.

“The purist in me doesn’t want to treat it,” says Reynolds.

There’s universal agreement with that point of view.


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