$6M effort restores Perry's Memorial

9/9/2010
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - Grass sprouts between the bricks and stones in the plaza surrounding Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial.

Wood covers the tile stairs inside the Put-in-Bay landmark, and a chain-link fence around the site lets visitors know they can't go inside.

Although the nearly 100-year-old monument looks a bit down and out, it's just closed for repairs.

Using nearly $6 million in federal stimulus funds, the National Park Service is undertaking restoration work it believes will keep the monument to Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie standing for another century.

The battle on Sept. 10, 1813 - 197 years ago tomorrow - over the British navy gave control of Lake Erie to the Americans and ultimately allowed U.S. forces to retake Detroit.

Superintendent Blanca Alvarez Stransky said the park service awarded a $5.1 million contract to Christman Co. of Lansing, Mich., to restore the concrete and stone on the observation deck, a source of concern since June, 2006, when a 500-pound chunk of granite fell 317 feet from the deck and ripped a hole in the plaza down to the basement level.

Jerry Cantu, facilities manager at Perry's Victory and International Peace Monument shows where a 500-pound piece of granite fell from the observation deck in June 2006.
Jerry Cantu, facilities manager at Perry's Victory and International Peace Monument shows where a 500-pound piece of granite fell from the observation deck in June 2006.

No one was injured, but an 8-foot perimeter fence and other precautions have been in place since. Access to the top of the memorial has been sporadic as work has been done in recent years.

Ms. Stransky said she's hoping the latest repairs, which will include installation of a drainage system for the 35-story monument, will be a permanent fix. Earlier this year, $800,000 in stimulus funds was used to fix the monument's 1936 elevator.

The repairs have kept the popular tourist site closed to visitors since November. Officials expect it to stay closed next year as work continues.

Doug Norton, Christman Co. project manager, said his firm was hired to remove stone from the observation deck, remove and replace deteriorated concrete underneath, install the drainage system, and put the stone back into place - a two-year project.

"Because it's 350 feet in the air, it's a little harder to get to," he said. "The challenge with this project has been to come up with a system that will hold the deck in place while we work."

Since late April, workers have been on site erecting a complex aluminum-and-steel shoring system to keep the observation deck - and workers - in place during the project.

Part of the area that is under repair at Perry's Victory and International Peace monument at Put-In-Bay.
Part of the area that is under repair at Perry's Victory and International Peace monument at Put-In-Bay.

Harry Hunderman, an architect with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., said the work itself is not complex, but getting in position to do it is.

"The monument is difficult to maintain because it's so hard to access," he said. "If it were lying on its side, it would be very easy to take care of."

He called the monument "a Doric column that's also a huge, very tall birdbath." It captures water at the top and, over time, the moisture has deteriorated the concrete.

Leigh Woodbury, project superintendent for the Christman Co., said his plan is to remove the capstone and fascia stone from the parapet around the observation deck and replace the deteriorating concrete underneath yet this year.

"Of course, we don't know what all is hidden in there," he said.

No one expected the job to be easy.

A crew of 8 to 10 workers is about all that fits comfortably, and they're working against nature and winds that yesterday were close to 25 miles per hour. Equipment and materials have to be shipped to the island by ferry, although Mr. Woodbury said concrete will come from Fox Stone Products on South Bass Island.

While the repairs are needed, it's a situation that frustrates visitors seeking an especially scenic view of Lake Erie and its islands from the observation deck.

Steve Lawrence of Columbus stopped by yesterday after catching a brief musket firing demonstration outside. He said he'd been to the top of the monument in the past and hoped to go up again, but didn't know it was closed. "We would've gone up for sure," he said.

Ms. Stransky said park officials are just as disappointed to have the monument closed. Eighty percent of the income from the $3 elevator rides is used for educational programming and maintenance projects at the memorial.

"We are losing approximately $300,000 a year," she said. "Our visitation is down about 25 to 30 percent below normal as a result of people thinking there's nothing else to do but go up to the top and talk to the rangers."

She said that although visitors cannot go to the top of the memorial, they are getting far more of the rangers' time and attention because her staff has been on the ground all summer.

On Saturday and Sunday, the site, which closes every year from November through March, will host Historic Weekend 2010, which will include a War of 1812 historic encampment, a parade, ice cream social, and Toledo Symphony concert.

Ms. Blanca said the park service has identified an additional $3 million in repairs it would like to complete before events planned for the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in 2013. Funding has not been secured, she said.

Perry's Monument, an iconic image that can be seen on everything from soda machines on the island to the welcome sign at Put-in-Bay, was completed in June, 1915, for $357,000. It weighs 18,400 tons, roughly the weight of a World War II-era aircraft carrier, Park Ranger Jeff Helmer said.

"It took 32 months to construct, which was uncannily the length of the War of 1812," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.