(Hey readers, this was a cool job we completed over the summer, and Jake Imlay wrote up a nice blog post about it. Enjoy!)
The Winter Street Center in Bath ME, home of Sagadahoc Preservation Inc., is striking at first glance. Sitting near the top of a hill, its gleaming white tower is outlined sharply against a blue sky. The tower is three tiered and ornamented in a Gothic revival style, with layers of pointed arches and slender spires topped with carved finials that look like spring onions. The building is flush board sided and bright white except for the window trim, which is red. The windows are triple hung and topped with a fourth fixed sash shaped into a pointed Gothic arch. On the whole, the simple strong lines of a New England church in white, and the more pronounced Gothic revival ornamentation work well together and the building manages to be eye-catching while fitting comfortably into its surroundings.
Inside, the main sanctuary space is defined by subtle curves. The balcony wall is curved, along with the narthex wall below it, and the ceiling has, or had, a deep cove. The narthex wall is the wall separating the front entrance, or narthex, from the sanctuary, and often offers structural support to a tower. This wall is where the curves originate. The sanctuary is close to 40 feet across and the curve starts at one wall and swings to the other catching the back center of the room at its deepest part. The pews mirror the curve as they move towards the altar as does the back portion of the balcony that wraps around three sides of the room. The last place the curve repeats is in the ceiling in an arch spreading from wall to wall. It was this ceiling and its spectacular failure that brought us onto the project.
During a windstorm in August of last year, about a third of the plaster and lath detached itself in one huge sheet and came crashing down onto the pews below. The reasons for this are not entirely apparent, but the plaster ceiling is/was attached to a surprisingly slight structure of 1” thick pine boards suspended from the roof trusses. The one inch thick boards are widely spaced and the edges provide by a very small amount of fastening surface for the lath. It may also have had something to do with the family of raccoons living in the space above the ceiling. The combination of weather, light framing and furry squatters proved disastrous.
We worked with EnviroVantage to clean the ceiling off the pews and erected a semi-permanent timber-framed platform from which they can demolish the remaining plaster and lath. The floor will pass over the balcony pews and land about 10 feet below the highest point of what remains of the arch. After the demo is completed, we’ll address structural issues in the roof trusses, and rethink the ceiling framing that defines the arch.
The timber framed platform was conceived as a cost effective alternative to a more traditional staging setup due to the point loads in the basement, the nine foot cantilever over the balcony and and the amount of time it is going to have to be in place. Usually, it’s more economical and efficient to rent ringlock staging than to timber frame our own, but the timeframe for this repair is on the order of years not months. SPI was facing the rental of a lot of staging for several years or paying to erect and disassemble a lot of staging several times. The timber frame will result in fewer penetrations of the original sanctuary fabric, point load directly to ground and result in a work surface that is inherently stronger and easier to work off of than temporary scaffolding. The timber floor solution will allow the abatement crew to remove the remaining ceiling from rolling staging.
The elevated floor is supported by four timber frame walls, consisting of seven posts, with paired braces and topped by a 60′ scarf-joined plate. The four plates are spanned by engineered I-joists, which pass over the balcony and rest on a knee wall adjacent the exterior eave walls. The biggest challenge in installing the timber frame floor was cutting the posts to the correct height. The tops of the posts needed to be level with one another for the joinery to fit, and the floor needed to be level in order to accommodate rolling baker’s staging. The main sanctuary floor rests on a series of six carrying timbers that run from eave to eave and the widely, unevenly spaced joists between them. The height of the sanctuary floor varies by more than two inches. We first mapped the carrying timbers in order to locate the posts directly over the carrying timbers, and to ensure the the carrying timber was supported by a pier directly beneath each post. We cut the joinery for the entire floor leaving the ends of the posts long. Once on site, we strung level lines across the sanctuary at the height of the elevated floor and parallel with the carrying timbers and measured down from the lines to the floor. The joinery was cut uniformly, but each post was custom cut to length. We were very pleased with how the joinery came together. If you want to see the plans, check out the Sagadahoc conceptual drawings. Sagadahoc Preservation Inc. is currently fundraising to restore their historic sanctuary, find out more or donate here.