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Rock Solid

Project: St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Kennebunkport, ME
Architect: Theriault/Landmann Associates, Portland, ME

By Martha McDonald

Built in 1886-87 using large local sea-washed stones, St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, ME, was beginning to show its age as the new century emerged. Originally designed by Henry Paston Clark of Boston, the church sits on the Maine coast where it is constantly buffeted by sea winds and harsh winters.

The project involved not only repointing the exterior stonework, but also structural work on the 60-ft. bell tower and restoration of the interior. Most of the work was done by Consigli Construction Co. in collaboration with Theriault/Landmann Associates.

"The building is unique. It's a real gem," says Scott Whitaker, project manager with Theriault/Landmann Associates. (He now has his own firm, Building Envelope Consultants, with offices in S. Portland, ME, and Portsmouth, NH.) "It's called rustic Romanesque and it's my understanding that it is the only one of this style on the Eastern seaboard. The body of the church is made of stones that were harvested right there." The building is notable for its 2½- to 3-ft.-thick walls made of local rubble stone. All sides of the church are exposed and are subjected to the elements of the ocean and the harsh New England weather.

Matthew Tonello, LEED AP, Consigli project executive, explains that the restoration was completed in two phases. The first phase involved the restoration of the tower, the bell frames, the bells, roof structure and the mechanism that rings the bells. "This was largely a repointing campaign," he says. "Our focus was on pulling out mortar 3-4 in. in depth and repointing the building. We had to remove some of the smaller stones and catalog them so they could be returned to the correct locations."

The team used hydraulic lime mortar, mixed with one part Federal white type one Portland cement. The Portland cement was added to accelerate the hardening time. "Hydraulic lime has an extended hardening time," says Tonello. "It could be a month before you get a good strength. The cement accelerated the curing of the mortar to less than 12 hours. The mortar was a 1.2.8 mix, one part cement, two parts hydraulic lime (St. Astier 3.5 Natural Hydraulic Lime) and eight parts local sand."

There was also concern about the stability of the bell tower. Dedicated in memory of President George H.W. Bush's mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, it was becoming unstable because half of the base rested on a ledge and half rested directly on the soil and was sinking. Consigli workers dug trenches and underpinned the structure, forming a continuous foundation. In addition, a hidden underground drainage system was installed to take moisture away from the building's walls and foundation.

Consigli had 8 to 12 trades people working on the project. In the first phase, they scaffolded the building, then removed the roof and extracted the bells so they could be sent to Balzer Family Clockworks, Freeport, ME, for restoration. Then the underpinning of the tower was completed in areas where scaffolding was engineered to span the locations where underpinning pits were excavated by hand. The building was then repointed. The masonry restoration took about two months, Tonello notes.

Other exterior work included reconstruction of frames and sills in the belfry in the bell tower. The stained glass windows were sent to Phoenix Studio of Portland, ME, for restoration.

Inside, the altar and organ loft were reconstructed, including some of the timbers in the loft. The Consigli masonry crew also reconstructed some of the marble balusters, marble stairs and a marble niche. J.C. Stone, Jefferson, ME, supplied marble for the project. R.G. Eaton Woodworks of Westbrook, ME, rebuilt the window frames and Heritage Co. of Waterboro, ME, repaired the slate and copper roofing.

This project had a number of unusual challenges. For one thing, Tonello notes, the local rubble stone is no longer available so it could not be replaced. "If we had a damaged stones, we could no longer go and find them on the coast of Maine. So we had to catalog all of the stones and make sure we put them back in the same place." (It's not that there's no rubble stone left in Maine, but it is now illegal to harvest ocean-washed stone because of environmental regulations.)

Another challenge was the weather. Since the church is used in the summer, the work had to be done during the off-season. "The remote location and the weather made it difficult," Tonello notes. "There is no winter water or heating in the building, so we had to bring that in. We had temporary gas-fired heaters to provide heat inside the tents for the scaffolding. And we constructed a mortar-mixing station so it wouldn't freeze." One of the original members of the congregation has been quoted as saying that the church was built of stones to "give the impression of permanence." Thanks to the recent work by the Consigli tradesmen who were willing to brave the harsh winter weather and Maine coastal winds, that goal has been achieved. The historic St. Ann's church with its thick rock walls is now ready to serve its summer-only community for at least another 100 years. TB

 

 

 
 

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