Structure in need of an estimated $8M in repairs

Officials at the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park are staring down the barrel of another multi-million dollar restoration project.

Those gathered on Patrick Henry Square for the annual Fourth of July festivities — and in the days since — have likely noticed that the bridge approach on the north side of the Lincoln Memorial Bridge is taped off.

And it's likely to stay closed for awhile.

“Everybody has probably noticed that, on that wall, there are what look like rust stains,” said Frank Doughman, park superintendent. “Most people also assume those are huge blocks of stone, but they're not.

“It's all more like a veneer,” he said. “And it's been compromised.”

Doughman said what appear to be large stone blocks are actually pieces of granite, each about 4 inches thick, that are attached with a glue-like substance to concrete underneath, anchored with 87-year-old pieces of iron. He likened it to the vinyl siding on a house.

But water is seeping through, he said, and the iron is rusting, causing the discoloration on the outside.

Park officials, Doughman said, have been battling the discoloration as far back as 1939 — only about seven years after bridge was constructed — when it was first noted during a state inspection.

They've attempted to clean it, even waterproof it, but the problem is now about a lot more than aesthetics, Doughman said.

“We don't know exactly what the condition of those (iron) mounts are under there,” he said. “But we can see that some of the stones have moved.

“During our last inspection, there was concern that some of them had moved enough that they could potentially pose a hazard. So we're being overly safe and have decided to put up a barrier to keep people off.”

It's actually the same problem, Doughman said, that plagued the memorial's terrace for years.

What would be a series of major repairs began in 2009 when $4 million was allocated to repair the leaky terrace. Due to somewhat shoddy techniques used during the Depression, the memorial's terrace had always leaked down into the infrastructure below, where the rotunda’s vast heating and cooling system as well as much of its electrical system are housed.

As a part of that project, the terrace was completely dismantled and a new drainage system installed. The entire structure was then waterproofed and rebuilt.

Three years later, the park secured the money needed to restore the decorative wall along the Wabash River. After that came another $3 million to completely update the memorial’s heating and air system, repairing the years of damage the leaky terrace had caused.

The bridge approach would be the park's next major repair, Doughman said, and it's a big one.

Each one of those granite facades, he said, weighs about 500 pounds. And just like with the memorial terrace: each one will need to be removed, numbered and taken off-site to be repaired and the fasteners replaced.

Early estimates, he said, are that it could cost upwards of $8 million.

Parts of the south side of the bridge approach — the area facing the memorial — have been taped off as well, although the steps down to the mall remain open to pedestrians, Doughman said.

The damage on the south side, he added, doesn't appear to be as severe.

It will all remain closed, he said, until the National Parks Service agrees to fund the project, which could be as much as two years.

“It's a process to get that kind of funding,” he said. “Anything over $2 million, (the federal government) considers a line item project, and every line item has to be approved by Congress.

“So the old adage, 'It takes an act of Congress,' well this project actually will.”

Staff, too, is prohibited to go beyond the taped-off areas, Doughman said, which is why the park's large American flag wasn't hoisted over the bridge on the Fourth of July.

“And we know grass is going to accumulate, the weeds are going to grow up, but we're not allowed to go in there, not even staff,” he said.

The good news, though, is that there are a couple of things at play, aspects he hopes will move the process along more quickly.

Obviously, he said, it's a health and safety issue if the damage is deemed bad enough to be cornered off. It's also, he said, the preservation of an important historic resource.

So they will push, he said, and hope for the best.

“A lot of other projects over the years we've considered to be a higher priority than this even though we knew it was an issue,” Doughman said. “It (played) second fiddle to other things.

“But now we've gotten to a point where we have to do something.”

That said, Doughman encouraged no one to panic; those granite pieces aren't likely to fall off anytime soon.

“We certainly don't think that's imminent,” he said. “We're just being ultra safe.”

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