March 12, 2010

Maritime museum deals with water challenges

By BOB KEYES Staff Writer


click image to enlarge

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Wednesday, February 11, 2009: Maine Maritime Museum's main building after only 20 years is suffering from deteriorating bricks mortar and concrete. Repairs costs close to a half million are anticipated for spring work.

Doug Jones

click image to enlarge

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Wednesday, February 11, 2009: Wrapped in a protective green barrier and fenced off the exterior foundation of the Maine Maritime Museum's East wall at the riverfront, is slated for repairs in the spring need building after only 20 years is suffering from deteriorating bricks mortar and concrete. Repairs costs close to a half million are anticipated for spring work.

Doug Jones

Staff Writer

BATH — The Maine Maritime Museum will embark on a repair job this spring in an effort to fix leaky brick walls that threaten the long-term health of the building and the museum's collection of maritime artifacts.

Although the Maritime History Building along the Kennebec River on the Bath waterfront is only 20 years old, it is plagued by water penetration caused in part by inadequate design and construction problems, said Bill Haggett, chairman of the museum's board of trustees.

''There is too much moisture getting between the walls, and it freezes and melts from season to season, and it has begun to penetrate some interior walls. It needs to be addressed,'' Haggett said.

The leaks are not new, and have been documented for many years, said Amy Lent, the museum's executive director.

''There have been water issues here since the early days of the building,'' said Lent, who has been on staff for more than two years. ''We've come to realize that it's a bigger issue and not just an isolated leak.''

The problem involves drainage from the roof. Because the roof was designed and constructed with little overhang, moisture runs down the museum's exterior walls, causing degradation of the bricks and mortar. From there, water works its way to the interior of the building.

The leaks have mostly been a nuisance, and are barely visible to the public. But left unaddressed over the long term, they pose great risk to the museum and its collection, Haggett said.

''Certainly, there are ways the museum can continue to function without having the work performed immediately,'' he said, ''but when we postpone taking corrective action, we run the risk of jeopardizing some of the artifacts in the museum and some of the documents, and certainly no one involved with the museum wants to take those risks.''

The museum interprets Maine's maritime heritage and culture through the collection, preservation and dissemination of historical materials and information. Its roots date to 1962, when residents of Bath formed the Marine Research Society of Bath.

The museum's holdings have expanded over the years, and now include several historic buildings, including those associated with the Percy & Small Shipyard.

The main structure on the museum grounds is the Maritime History Building, which was built in 1989 and comprises 30,000 square feet, including exhibition space, an admissions center and a gift shop. It's a steel structure with a brick facade.

Lent said the museum does not have legal recourse with the building's designers or builders, because too much time has passed since the construction. Besides, she said, ''We prefer to solve things peacefully when we can, and this time we were successful, happily.''

Beginning in early spring, Coastal Masonry of Georgetown will apply a solvent to the entire brick exterior, sealing it from moisture penetration, while also improving the building's ventilation and drainage. The estimated cost of the project is just under $500,000, Lent said.

It's not a perfect solution, because such an approach will require regular maintenance in the future, Haggett said, but it makes the most sense because it's affordable and practical.

The museum considered another proposal that would have involved removing the brick and rebuilding the walls. But that approach simply wasn't feasible, Haggett said

''It would have cost several million dollars,'' he said. ''We spent some time talking about it, debating what would be required to raise that kind of money. Even in a good economy, it would have been a difficult challenge to get people to invest that kind of money to do a major reconstruction job on a building that's only 20 years old. But then the economy tanked, and what appeared to be a difficult challenge essentially became impossible.''

To date, the museum has received grants of $200,000 from the National Park Service and $100,000 from the Libra Foundation to help pay for the work. ''We still need a bit more to completely cover our total costs, and we're confident we'll get it,'' Lent said.

The work should begin in April and conclude before summer.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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