2009-04-30 / Local & State

Stimulus Millions To Fix Leaky Independence Hall

By Ron Todt ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - More than $5.6 million in federal stimulus aid will be used to repair and restore the leaky clock tower of Independence Hall, which once housed the Liberty Bell, and for other park improvements, officials said Wednesday.

Independence National Historical Park officials said about $4 million will be used to stop the deterioration caused by water infiltration in the tower, install a new lightning protection system and add new clock faces. Other funds will go toward installing energy monitoring equipment in park buildings and repairing historic cobblestones.

"If you look at tall buildings that have towers, the first thing that disappears if they're not maintained is a tower,'' said Charles Tonetti, the park's chief historical architect.

The current tower was built in 1828, replacing the original tower constructed in 1750.

In the interior of the tower, the original 18th century timber contrasts with orange steel supports from the 1960s and red steel installed in the 1990s due to an earlier water problem. Tonetti points out a protruding rod that is believed to be part of the original lightning rod installed by Benjamin Franklin.

On higher levels, wood near the nine-foot white clock faces is stained by seeping water, and elsewhere salt from a modern sealant has turned wood into hairlike debris. The main problem, Tonetti said, is rust on iron rods that has been breaking up the surrounding wood, allowing even more water to seep in.

Park officials are mulling over how best to solve the water problem, perhaps by replacing the iron rods with steel. They also plan to use stimulus money to replace deteriorated bricks, rotted wood and worn-out wooden shingles, restore wooden windows and repaint the entire structure to its original whiter shade rather than the current yellowish hue.

Once a construction company is hired, which must be done by September of next year, the project should take about 14 months, park officials say.

"We want to have this building scaffolded for only one Fourth of July,'' Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod said.

The 1828 framework of the structure is not in any danger and in fact is overall "in great shape,'' Tonetti said. But replacement of wood, recaulking and repainting needs to be done about every 15 years as part of the building's regular repair cycle, officials said.

"It's similar to a house; every so often, you have to go back, put on a new roof, do the normal repairs,'' Tonetti said.

More than $14.2 million has been allotted for National Park Service projects in Pennsylvania, including more than $2 million for building repairs at Valley Forge National Historical Park.

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