The History Center's 120-year-old building at Barr and Berry streets will get an exterior facelift this fall, which will include replacing portions of damaged sandstone blocks in the outside walls and re-pointing all mortar between stones.
The approximately $200,000 project is part of an ongoing effort to stabilize the building and make it energy efficient, said Todd Maxwell Pelfrey, History Center executive director.
The next phase, which is scheduled for next year, will replace all of the damaged windows and window casings, Pelfrey said.
When that work is completed, “This will be one of the most energy-efficient historical museums in the region,” he said.
Built in 1893, the Richardsonian Romanesque-style structure has rough-cut sandstone exterior walls sitting on a limestone base, said architect Ed Welling of Grinsfelder Associates Architects, the local firm the History Center hired to oversee the stone restoration project.
Over the years, rain and wind have worn away portions of the sandstone, Welling said. Abrasion from snow-removal vehicles pushing snow along the building, as well as salt and chemicals thrown up on the walls from the street, also have sped up the wearing away of the sandstone.
The mortar between stones also has become loose in many places, sometimes falling to the ground, said Bob Nern, the History Center's finance coordinator.
The restoration will begin with a complete cleaning of the building's exterior using a chemical cleaner a little stronger than dish soap, Welling said.
Workers then will chip away the outer 6 inches of damaged stones and replace that portion with new sandstone, he said. They also will remove at least the outer 1 inch of mortar between all of the stones and replace it with new mortar.
Grinsfelder & Associates already has had a company test the composition of the original mortar, Welling said. The new mortar will have to be mixed from scratch by work crews so it has the same strength and elasticity as the original.
Mortar that doesn't have the same properties as the original could cause the stones to crack, Welling said.
The work, which should be completed in 60 to 90 days, will be done by Ziolkowski Construction of South Bend, which the University of Notre Dame uses for exterior restoration on most of its historic buildings, Welling said. The firm also has worked on the Wells County Courthouse.
The History Center will remain open during the work, Pelfrey said. But the alley south of the building, the sidewalks along its Berry and Barr street sides, and possibly portions of its parking lot could be closed temporarily when crews are working on those sides of the building, Nern said.
Money to pay for the project comes from the remainder of a $1.2-million grant received in 2008 from the City of Fort Wayne, Pelfrey said. When the History Center moved into the building in 1980, the city agreed to fund the structure's long-term maintenance, Pelfrey said. The 2008 grant was the city's first real investment since 1980, he said.
About $1 million of the grant went toward installing a new energy-efficient heating-and-air conditioning system in the building, Pelfrey said. It already has saved the History Center about 8 percent annually in operating expenses.
Replacement of about 130 windows will complete the energy efficiency updates, Nern said.
“They are wood and old and have a lot of air coming in and out in summer and winter both,” he explained.
The new windows, which should be installed next year, will match the look of the original, Pelfrey said. The roughly $400,000 cost will be paid for with a grant from the city's Redevelopment Commission.
Once the exterior work is completed, Pelfrey and his staff plan to focus on the interior. He already is planning a fundraising campaign to upgrade existing exhibits and to expand permanent exhibits into space currently used for storage or other non-display purposes.