'Life-threatening' Governor's Mansion portico now under repair

Published: Saturday, June 7 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

Willimore said that the portico hasn't collapsed since his original study is "actually a measure of how well that thing was put together. It wasn't as dangerous as we thought."

There also hasn't been any major earthquake activity.

"The whole thing is freestanding," Willimore said of the marble-columned portico. "It's really like a stack of cards. You get some violent ground motion, it will be knocked over."

That includes the concrete roof. Willimore said the concrete on the approximately 400-square-foot roof "turned out to be a lot thicker than we thought it was," weighing about 150 pounds per square foot or some 30 tons overall.

Mike Ambre, the division project manager for the portico, said the shaped concrete roof, between 9 inches and 17 inches thick, is being replaced with a steel deck that will be topped with foil-backed copper.

Willimore said the project is complex.

"It's amazing," he said. "All the things I've worked on, I've never worked on anything so complicated for being such a little space. (It's) just the way everything was put together."

According to the utah.gov website, the computer model Willimore created to assess the mansion's structural weakness "revealed several surprises," including that the roof, walls and floors were not connected to each other or exterior masonry.

"The building was in poor seismic condition. In order to reduce earthquake risk, structural elements had to be strengthened and 'connected'" at the mansion originally built in 1902 for mining magnate and U.S. Sen. Thomas Kearns, according to the website.

The once-stately entrance to the mansion is now a construction site, with heavy steel beams temporarily replacing the 20-foot marble columns and the stately stairs removed so a new foundation can be poured.

The marble columns were removed to make it easier to drill holes through, allowing rebar to be inserted so they can finally be attached to the new roof and what will be a seismically sound foundation.

"It's been a little bit tricky. Each step of the project takes a little bit to get up and rolling," said Michael Hill of Paulsen Construction, the project superintendent. "We're tying everything together with rebar down to the ground."

Other improvements are more cosmetic. The intricately carved capitals that rested atop the marble columns and depicted images such as a lion have worn down enough to merit replacement.

Since the restoration after the 1993 fire, there has been other work done in addition to the carriage house project, including replacing the mansion roof in 1999. The portico project should be the last project for a while.

"When they get finished with this, it will look like it's supposed to look. It will be safe," Willimore said. "And people will be happy with it."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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