Kentucky State University officials say they’re on track to complete by late summer the first renovations to the Old Paul Sawyier Library – a project that envisions classes, community programs and a Kentucky River center with riverboat tours.
It’s unclear when the building will open to the public, but the boat could be on the water by next summer. Officials say it will take $4 million to open the building, and a total of $7 million to restore it completely.
Construction crews are working on the first phase of renovations, paid for by a $1 million federal grant.
Their original deadline uly 20 was pushed back to Aug. 3 to allow for the manufacture and installation of decorative windows, said Jack McNear, associate vice president for Capital Planning, Construction and Facility Operations.
But otherwise, McNear said Spectrum Contracting Services Inc. of Nicholasville is making good progress on exterior renovations, the first step toward downtown classes, a Kentucky River exploration center and riverboat tours.
“They’ve worked Saturdays, they’ve worked holidays,” he said, during a recent tour of the building for The State Journal.
“They’re really working hard to maintain this schedule.”
Nearly three years after buying the building from the city, KSU started $837,000 worth of exterior renovations in January. It’s been estimated that a complete overhaul would cost $7 million.
Spectrum has done similar projects in the past, including historic restorations to Frankfort’s Berry Hill, the Cardome Center in Georgetown, the Scott County Courthouse, the Shelbyville Welcome/Heritage Center and My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown.
Construction superintendent Fred Anderson says his crews have spent the last few months restoring about 220 window panels plus the horizontal transom windows above them.
Anderson said all the work was done on-site because the windows were too heavy and cumbersome to pack into a trailer for restoration elsewhere.
They removed the windows from the walls, replaced the glass if needed, repainted the frames in historical colors and reinstalled them. Anderson said more than 100 pieces of glass were replaced because of disrepair.
“Even if it has a little crack, you know it’s eventually (going to break), so even if it had a hairline crack we replaced it,” Anderson said.
“There were so many coats of paint, they were actually welded to the frames, but now every one of them are in a working condition.”
Crews have also worked to remove and replace aging mortar between stones on the exterior of the building, patch broken stones and clean the black streaks of water damage with an acid wash, Anderson said.
One stone had to be completely replaced. Contractors worked with a limestone company to create a replica that would match the 1800s-era cuttings around it.
They also repaired the roof, which included restoration of the slate roof that covers the back portion of the building.
KSU bought the structure – opened in 1887 as a federal courthouse and post office that later served as Frankfort’s library – from the city in April 2009 for $500,000.
When the building opened in the late 1800s, it housed a post office on the first floor, federal courtrooms on the second floor and offices on the third floor. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
The building’s past is evident – there are grooves in the entryway where a wooden revolving door once stood, and a wide indentation worn in the terrazzo floor by thousands of footsteps at the mail counter.
“That must have been the hot spot right there, where everybody walked up and got their mail,” Anderson said.
There are fireplaces and old gas light fixtures, a walk-in safe and fireplaces. The building’s original back exterior wall – hidden from public view since an addition was built in the early 1900s – is visible from a pitch-dark room on the third floor.
The revolving door has been safely stored in the attic for years.
“We found a lot of the old elements of the library here,” McNear said, walking past shelves filled with dusty objects nearby.
More recent history is visible today too. Library posters still hang on the walls upstairs, and office doors are still labeled.
The university did some cosmetic work on the interior soon after buying the building, McNear said. That included installing new carpet, pulling the carpet up in some areas to expose the original terrazzo floor and painting the first two floors.
“We’ve still got quite a bit more work to go, obviously,” he said. “But especially this area, it’s come quite a long way from its original state.”
Any future construction phases are on hold until additional money surfaces. They would include renovations to the building’s historic interior and upgrades to electrical, heating and cooling systems.
McNear estimates it will cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to replace both, which will allow for more interior renovations.
The building also needs a larger elevator and more restrooms, he said.
“We have an estimate that to get this building in the condition it needs to be in would be $7 million,” he said, adding that the figure would include all restorations, furnishings and other items.
University officials believe they can make the building operational – if not fully renovated – for about $4 million, McNear said.
Beyond the original $1 million federal grant, he expects another $1 million is headed toward KSU “in bits and parts.” That income isn’t guaranteed, but he said officials “feel pretty confident about it.”
Jim Tidwell, chair of the Division of Aquaculture at KSU, said the Kentucky River Interpretive Center is in the design phase with Solid Light, a Louisville company that designs museums and exhibits.
He said full-sized, interactive displays would transport visitors from the formation of the Kentucky River to its present-day importance to the Central Kentucky water supply.
The center will also address the river’s importance to the founding of Frankfort, the biology of the river and the system of locks and dams.
Tidwell said it would fit well with other Frankfort attractions like the Salato Center, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History and the Capital City Museum.
“Frankfort is like a lot of other towns – it was put here because the river is here, but it’s kind of turned its back on the river,” he said.
“But like a lot of other towns, it’s starting to look back toward the river now.”
The state capital draws an estimated 40,000 students a year for field trips, he said. He hopes the center will give them a reason to stay in town for an entire day instead of a few hours.
There’s also an opportunity to draw “day trippers” as they pass through Frankfort on their boats, Tidwell said.
“Maybe they will get a hotel room, spend the night and have a couple of meals while they are here,” he said.
Part of the vision for the Kentucky River Interpretive Center is a 52-foot pontoon boat that will serve as a floating science lab for up to 49 passengers.
So far construction of the $320,000 boat has yet to begin. The company originally selected to build it went bankrupt and closed in 2009, and KSU hired a new company, Thoroughbred Houseboats of Monticello, Ky., in the fall of 2010.
Both the university and the boat builder say meeting the U.S. Coast Guard’s rigorous requirements has held up the project.
Tidwell said he and KSU President Mary Sias traveled to Monticello several weeks ago to meet with the boat maker and the Coast Guard.
“They’ve approved the plans, they’ve approved a local welding inspector, and I think they’re ready to lay the hull here in a few weeks,” he said.
Still, even if the boat is finished later this summer, Tidwell says they won’t put it in the water until next summer, perhaps May or June.
“It’s a lot of concurrent activities,” he said. “There’s wheels turning here, wheels turning there that we hope are going to integrate.”
The building will also house classrooms, meeting spaces and offices, McNear said.
The old federal courtroom on the second floor could house programs overseen by Anne Butler, an associate professor in the honors program: the Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans and the Office of Regional Stewardship and Public Engagement, which works to prepare area students for college.
She said she envisions the two programs fusing together, eventually bringing workshops, lecture, symposiums and academic programs for school kids to the building. There may also be a “day of service” with volunteer contributions from the entire KSU community.
“These ‘learn and serve’ courses are something we’re hoping to increase significantly,” she said.
KSU was one of 20 historically black colleges and universities to receive a total of $14.25 million from the National Park Service to preserve historic buildings on campuses in 2009.
The university’s 2009 request for proposals from architects estimated that the first phase of construction would be finished by May 2011 and the second phase by May 2012.
University officials told The State Journal in January that the delay in building the pontoon boat held up the entire construction project.
Lee Bagley, the project’s architect, said negotiations between the university and state and federal government officials about the terms of the federal stimulus grant were the biggest obstacles.
The renovation project is taking shape about a year later than university officials hoped.
Any work that isn’t finished soon will be at the university’s expense. The $1 million National Parks Service grant that’s paying for the first phase of construction expires Sept. 30.