ANNAPOLIS – If you didn’t look up in the air about 170 feet, you probably wouldn’t even notice. Unless, of course, you’re one of the police officers who raises the flags from the top of the Maryland Statehouse each morning.
The dome — the largest surviving 18th century wooden structure in America — is getting a facelift.
The dome has seen many a worker since its first repair job in 1785, when architects fixed a leaky roof and rebuilt the entire exterior to evoke a grander scale.
Today’s renovations call for replacing the 207-year-old windows and decayed wood railings, then supplying a fresh coat of paint. It’s a job for specialists with their own preservation history.
“The state wanted it that way,” said Jim Becker, a supervisor from Baltimore-based Fiorini Brothers Inc., the contractor that won the job with its bid of $153,000.
During the bid process, contractors were required to produce five examples of the each type of specialty work required for the job, said Sharon Fiorini, a member of the firm. That was even before they gave price estimates.
“This was rather a unique process,” Fiorini said.
Her company has 30 years of historical preservation experience, including historic offices on Albermarle Street in Baltimore, a church in Mt. Vernon, Va., and most recently the cupola atop the Maryland Treasury Building in Annapolis.
“They were looking for someone they knew could do the job, not just the lowest bid,” Fiorini said.
Enter the lead abatement, window restoration, glass, woodworking, scaffold and paint specialists.
After loose paint is removed this fall, each of the dome’s 16 windows will be wrapped in its own custom crate, packed in plastic foam and sealed from the elements for transport.
Then, it’s back to Baltimore to the environmentally controlled workroom of the window renovation specialist. Any rotted or partially damaged wood will be meticulously replaced or renovated with wood-hardeners, and the specialty glaziers will be called in to assess and renovate the glass sections of the windows, Fiorini said.
In March or April, the scaffold specialists will erect the framework inside and around the dome’s surface. The painters will follow to complete the job during the warm summer months.
In 1793, workman Thomas Dance fell 90 feet to his death from scaffolding he’d erected inside the dome.
Do today’s scaffold workers get hazardous duty pay? What about heights?
“Not to my knowledge. There is no extra pay,” said Rochelle Vogt, the secretary at MTS Scaffold, Inc., a subcontractor on the current job. “And if I had a fear of heights, I wouldn’t go into that kind of work.” -30-