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Engineers find critical problem with WV Capitol dome


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Capitol Building Commission members gave final approval Wednesday to a project to resolve major water leakage issues in the West Virginia Capitol dome, after being apprised of a newly discovered critical problem within the dome.

Engineers with WDP & Associates say the tensioning system for the interior dome at the West Virginia Capitol has failed. The system, a series of metal cables and tension rods seen here between the inner and outer domes, allows the exterior dome superstructure to support the interior dome, which can be seen by visitors to the Capitol Rotunda.
(Photo by Perry Bennett, West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Rex Cyphers, an engineer with WDP & Associates, of Charlottesville, Virginia, said the tensioning system for the interior dome — a series of metal cables that allow the exterior dome superstructure to hold up the interior dome about 60 feet below — has failed.

Cyphers said, while studying water damage to the clay tile walls of the interior Rotunda, WDP engineers determined that the walls are pushing out because they are bearing the weight of the interior dome.

“The weight of the dome is bearing on these walls that essentially can’t take it,” he said.

He said engineers determined that the tensioning system, which was replaced during a 1995-96 renovation of the interior dome, has failed.

“There’s not any appreciable tension in these rods,” he said.

Cyphers said failure does not pose an imminent risk, but it should be corrected “as expeditiously as possible.”

“I don’t think, at this point, there’s cause for alarm,” he said, adding, “If nothing is done, the risk only increases with time.”

Administration Secretary John Myers said it makes sense to proceed immediately with the dome repairs, rather than to let the water leaks continue to cause additional damage to the dome, which will increase the project costs.

Replacing the tensioning system is the latest addition to what is budgeted as an $8 million project to address major water leakage problems in the Capitol dome.

With the commission’s approval Wednesday, a request for bids for the project contract is expected to go out in August.

While the dome has had water leakage issues dating back to its construction — Cyphers noted that there is correspondence from architect Cass Gilbert raising the issue — General Services Division workers noticed a small spot of paint damage on one of the interior Rotunda panels in spring 2016, damage that is now extensive over the entire length of the panel.

General Services Director Greg Melton told commissioners he believes a section of drainage pipe built into the exterior dome was destroyed in a February 2015 ice storm, causing the major water infiltration problem.

“We believe it took about a year for the water to migrate through and cause the paint bubbling,” he said.

Cyphers said the project will be extensive, requiring repair work on the exterior and interior domes, and to the interior Rotunda, the latter requiring removal and replacing of large sections of the clay tile and plaster walls.

He said the project will take 24 months to complete, and will require closing the first-floor Rotunda area, to allow construction of scaffolding to access the interior dome and Rotunda walls. It also will require closing or restricting access to the Capitol food court, located in the basement beneath the Rotunda, to install shoring to support the weight of the scaffolding.

The project is to be funded with state Lottery surplus revenue.

Also Wednesday, the commission:

Approved the removal and replacement of wooden entrance doors in the Capitol’s East and West wings.

The doors, which are original to the wings’ opening in 1925 and 1927, have severe deterioration and require frequent maintenance. Commissioners agreed that the doors have too much deterioration to attempt any restoration, and approved a request from the GSD to order new doors, with the stipulation that the doors match the materials and appearance of the originals.

Approved the removal of two trees on the Capitol grounds, one near the Stonewall Jackson statue on Kanawha Boulevard, and one adjacent to the West Wing loading dock.

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