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Officials Question WI Courthouse Coating Choice

Thursday, June 21, 2018

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With the work on Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Brown County Courthouse dome completed in October, a consulting firm is working to determine why the copper on the dome has already lost its shine.

The linseed oil protective coating used on the surface was named as a likely culprit, with the dome losing its shine only six months after the work was completed.

The Tarnished Dome

While the dome’s exterior isn’t holding up as planned, the interior renovations were a success, according to ABC affiliate WBAY. Renaissance Roofing Inc. completed the work.

“We took care of any leaks, we took care of any structural problems, we restored mortar joints and we cleaned the stone, so all of that is functioning very well. This one issue is really an aesthetic issue,” said Doug Marsh, facility engineer for Brown County Public Works.

Marsh also noted that when the $1.6 million renovation was approved, the shine was expected to last for a few years. With that in mind, he informed the contractors of this, and they recommended using a boiled linseed oil to slow oxidation. Officials expected to get five to seven years of life from the seal.

In late May, crews took samples of the dome for analysis, while also setting up their own experiment: They placed three different panels on the roof, each coated with a different sealer. One was covered in linseed oil, another with a solvent-based coating called Incralac and the last had a protectant called Everbrite.

It will take four to six months before the test results come back. The firm is expected to issue a recommendation for a strategy to clean and coat the dome. Currently, a county employee takes photos of the strips weekly and sends them to firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger.

Coating Concerns

Frank Cayemberg, general manager at building-restoration contractor R.J. Jacques Inc., told Green Bay Press Gazette that his company did not bid on the project because he didn’t believe the work called for would benefit the taxpayers footing the bill. R.J. Jacques Inc. did sealing work on the dome years ago, but Cayemberg alleges that the county did not keep up with the required maintenance.

Cayemberg also said that the discoloration of the dome was likely due to contamination of the copper, which could be workers’ handprints being stuck in the sealant. He added that, upon reading the bid specifications, “that what you have is what you were going to have.”

A county official did note that the coating would perform for the duration expected, while reducing maintenance demand and meeting preservation requirements.

“The seal coat for the dome, of that $1.6 million, was only $30,000, so still a significant amount of money but a small amount compared to the overall project,” said Marsh.

The Brown County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The interior underwent a $10 million upgrade in 1992.

   

Tagged categories: Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Project Management; Renovation

Comment from john schultz, (6/21/2018, 8:58 AM)

Does anybody here think linseed oil was a good choice? How about a spray lacquer? maybe it was a historic coating imperative.


Comment from Trevor Neale, (6/21/2018, 9:02 AM)

For exposed copper they should be looking for acid free clear coatings with added UV protection , Fluorocarbon based clear coats may be the answer if the correct surface preparation can be performed.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/21/2018, 10:20 AM)

John - I investigated something similar (historic bronze plaques) and found that the historical preservation people have a very different standard for coating. Many still want to go with a hand rubbed wax application that is expected to last less than a year (like waxing a car). Their higher end is often an undefined "lacquer" that might last a couple years. Nevermind that nobody seems to come back to redo the wax or lacquer until the next major overhaul in a few decades. To be clear: I am not recommending any of these or linseed oil if long term (or even mid-term) protection is desired.


Comment from Heather and Ross Miller, (6/21/2018, 5:18 PM)

Down here in New Zealand we coat our architectural copper (fittings, domes, exterior wall panels, cappings etc) with Everbrite - Manufactured in California.. The secret is to prepare the surface properly. It must be free of all previous polishes, oils etc. Then once scrupulously clean you must neutralise the surface to rid of any acid traces, and then after the surface has been washed down with clean water, and it is BONE DRY, we wipe it over with xylene, and then apply three (3) coats of Everbrite. Four (4) if near the sea. For such a wonderful masterpiece it needs to be protected by the best means.


Comment from Michael Halliwell, (6/22/2018, 11:33 AM)

Can I ask a dumb question here? What was the goal of the roof restoration's finishing work? Is the courthouse supposed to have a gleaming copper colored roof forever, or was it supposed to return to the typical green patina over time? If the former, why wasn't a permanent clear coat applied? If the latter, what's the concern? The roof is progressing toward the intended end point (it just started sooner).


Comment from Michael Kramer, (6/27/2018, 11:26 AM)

We think it should be gilded with 23.75KT gold leaf


Comment from john lienert, (7/10/2018, 7:38 AM)

thank-you, Mike Halliwell, for a common sense answer ! ( and, really, the only one that makes ANY sense).


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