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March 8, 2007

Cathedral of Learning restoration project set

On the 220th anniversary of Pitt’s founding, trustees approved a $4.8 million project to clean and refurbish the exterior of the University’s signature building, the Cathedral of Learning.

The project, expected to start March 12 and run through September, is the first large-scale exterior preservation effort for the 42-story Cathedral, Pitt officials said.

At a Feb. 28 conference call meeting in 159 CL, Jerome Cochran, executive vice chancellor, introduced a resolution that was approved by the trustees property and facilities committee.

“Over time, we’ve grown concerned about the condition of the exterior of the Cathedral,” Cochran said. “Specifically, environmental factors have played some measure of havoc with respect to the condition of the limestone, as well as the aluminum panels and caulking between the stones. The metal hangers that hang the large limestone on the façade of the Cathedral are clearly suffering from years of exposure to environmental [factors] as well as moisture that causes significant rust.”

Cochran said that while the most visible part of the project will be the cleaning of the building, “the most important aspect of this project is the repairs to be done as a result of the building’s exterior condition.”

Inspections of the Cathedral’s exterior found stones that were cracked and mortar that was loose or missing in hundreds of locations, caused by expansion and contraction over time. In some cases, the cracks have allowed moisture to penetrate the walls, causing further deterioration, Pitt officials said.

Workers will inspect the limestone façade for damaged stones, replacing or restoring them as necessary, as well as inspecting and replacing any missing or deteriorated mortar joints.

Some individual limestone panels also are cracked, particularly those along the parapets. In addition, some cracks exhibit evidence of metal staining, suggesting that fasteners buried in the masonry may be rusting. Corroded anchors will be removed and replaced with stainless steel pins. All mortar, caulking and replacement stones will be matched as closely as possible with the original colors and textures, according to materials distributed at the Feb. 28 meeting.

As for the cleaning, the limestone will be pre-washed with pressurized water; then, a substance composed of 100 percent recycled micron powdered glass will be applied and rinsed off with pressurized water.

The cleaning product, distributed by Quintek Corp., is inert and nontoxic, Pitt officials noted. The product has been used on dozens of historic buildings, including Buckingham Palace and the Kremlin.

Though the dust from the cleaning is inert and nontoxic, and most of it will diffuse into the atmosphere, officials said, visitors to the Cathedral will be protected from any errant dust by scaffolding.

The project will be implemented by the Pittsburgh-based Cost Co., which is experienced in masonry preservation.

The work schedule is being coordinated with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to ensure the safety of a pair of peregrine falcons who have made their home atop the Cathedral since 2002. The falcons are expected to have fledglings in early spring, and the Cost crew will wait until late June, when the young birds have left the nest, before starting work on the upper floors.

Cochran said the total cost of the project is $4.8 million. “At the outset, we’re going to front-end the payment for this project out of plant reserves,” he said. “But we will be instituting a fundraising campaign within the $2 billion capital campaign to raise the money, and then we will reimburse our plant reserves.”

The first two donors of the refurbishing campaign, dubbed the Cathedral Preservation Society initiative, were Loren and Ellen Roth, who anticipated this project and made their contribution years ago.

Loren Roth is associate senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and professor of health policy and management at Pitt and senior vice president and chief medical officer of UPMC, and Ellen Roth is the principal of Getting to the Point, Inc.

The property and facilities committee also approved step 1 of Ruskin Hall renovations, a $19.4 million project to convert the hall from medical student housing into 178 apartment-style units with 416 beds for undergraduates.

Cochran said, “In recent years we have paid specific attention to the undergraduate housing needs on the University of Pittsburgh campus, and over time we’ve significantly increased the number of beds. But it seems as though the more we build, given the quality of what we offer the undergraduate student body, the higher the demand is.”

Cochran said the Ruskin Hall project was tied into the University’s ongoing construction of Darragh Street medical student housing, which is set to open in time for the fall term.

The Ruskin Hall renovation is expected to be completed in time for the 2008 fall term, he said.

Funding for the project will come from auxiliary debt. Annual operating costs of the Ruskin Hall dormitory are expected to be $2.25 million, to be offset by annual gross income from room fees at $2.9 million, for an expected net annual income of $650,000, according to materials distributed at the trustees Feb. 28 meeting.

—Peter Hart

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