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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter8:03 amJul 8, 20240

Discovery of more water leaks will swell the price of mending City Hall’s white walls

The latest round of repairs comes shortly after Mayor Scott applauded his administration for keeping costs down

Above: New scaffolding has been erected on the southeast side of City Hall. (Mark Reutter)

Two weeks after the mayor and city comptroller lauded the Department of General Services for keeping City Hall’s stone wall repairs “below budget,” the same agency is reporting a new set of problems that’s likely to bring prices right back up again.

The historic seat of Baltimore government, housed inside white marble walls and ornate Serlian windows, continues to leak despite 31 Extras Work Orders (EWOs) and $12.4 million in authorized repairs since 2020.

General Services Director Berke Attila has defended the EWOs as anticipated expenses – not cost overruns – that were phased into the agency’s budget to stay within its annual capital appropriations.

Hearing from Attila that the repairs could end up “saving us $1.5 million” and the project itself was “ahead of schedule by about five years,” Mayor Brandon Scott heaped praise on the agency, jokingly telling Attila to repeat that “they’re gonna finish early and under the budget.”

The July 10 Board of Agenda agenda, however, offers a less optimistic assessment from the same officials:

“During the Phase 9 stone repair assessment, it was discovered that water was infiltrating and exiting the building between the upper gutter and lower plan gutter systems. The water is entering into the building substructure due to a combination of failed joint sealants and misaligned stone slabs.”

As a consequence, General Services has submitted EWO No. 32 for approval on Wednesday, so that contractor Lorton Stone can remove and repair the “discovered” failed joints and misaligned slabs.

Drip by Drip

The request for $36,879 represents a sliver of potential costs because the request covers only a small portion of what General Services describes as “a systematic problem” impacting the whole building.

Bottom line:

Expect many more EWOs coming before the spending board as General Services submits the repair costs on a “phase-by-phase basis.”

City Hall was dedicated in October 1875, eight years after its cornerstone was laid.

Baltimore City Hall was finished in 1875, eight years after the cornerstone was laid. This vintage postcard dates from 1915 before land east of the building was cleared for Memorial Plaza.

Roofing Issues

Aging stone walls aren’t the only challenge. City Hall possesses a notoriously leaky mansard roof and a deteriorating glass-and-iron dome that, together with the building itself, will soon reach a milestone – turning 150 years old in 2025.

City Hall originally cost $2.5 million (in 1870s money). Scott and the BOE have transferred $3.5 million in capital funds to undertake roof and dome repairs.

That sum now appears to be a just down payment.

In April, a single contractor, W.M. Schlosser of Hyattsville, responded to a request for bids for “City Hall Roof and Dome Restoration.”

Schlosser’s price tag of $13.6 million amounts to nearly four times the current roof allocation.

So far, there’s no official word if the BOE will accept the bid or if the project will be delayed to a future year.

In that case, it will follow the fate of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, a block west of City Hall, where efforts to put on a new roof have stalled for years.

Trying to get a new roof on the Mitchell Courthouse has stalled for years.

Initially in 2020, eight bids were submitted for the new roof.

All of them were rejected as too pricey or as non-compliant with city minority and women’s business rules.

In May 2023, four bids were offered for the same project. Costs ranged from $2.4 million to $7.7 million. General Services again rejected all of the offers, saying their decision was “in the best interests of the city.”

This March the board opened two bids for the courthouse roof. The lowest bid was nearly double the previous low offer. For a third time, General Services said “no,” leaving the courtroom roof in limbo.

A more promising fate awaits the War Memorial building, across the plaza from City Hall.

General Services says its roof needs to be replaced, and Swain Enterprises says it will do it for half the price submitted by four competitors.

The $975,090 Swain contract is up for board approval on Wednesday.

Scaffolding is now located on the southeast corner of City Hall to deal with persistent rainwater penetration. (Mark Reutter)

Workers are currently trying to stanch the rainwater penetrating the southeast walls of City Hall. (Mark Reutter)

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