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by Mark Reutter4:50 pmJun 26, 20240

Cost of restoring City Hall’s white walls exceeds $12 million, with other expenses to come

Despite millions more needed to rehab the historic building, Mayor Brandon Scott and Comptroller Bill Henry laud the restoration for being “under budget”

Above: A shiny City Hall, seen from Guilford Avenue, where restoration costs continue to grow. (Mark Reutter)

The Board of Estimates today approved the 31st EWO, or extra work order, to buff up and repair the white marble walls that enclose Baltimore’s seat of government, while allocating $3.4 million more to replace a roof that is “corroding to the point of section loss.”

While the overall cost of restoring the exterior of the ornate 19th century landmark (walls and roof) has passed the $16 million mark – making it 152% more expensive than the last full restoration in 1975-77 – the Scott administration made it a point to say the project is not another example of runaway costs.

Instead, General Services Director Berke Attila told the board without explanation he “believes” the restoration “will end up saving us about $1.5 million.”

Even though sandblasting began four years ago and isn’t expected to be finished until the end of 2025, Attila also offered this surprising news: “We’re ahead of schedule by about five years.”

Mayor Brandon Scott said he liked what he heard.

“I just want the director and deputy director to repeat that they’re gonna finish early and under the budget,” Scott exclaimed to scattered applause, while Comptroller Bill Henry waved off the number of EWOs submitted by the project as immaterial.

“We were concerned that people would see change order 31 and think this project had gone off the rails,” Henry said, “when, in fact, you’re actually, as the mayor pointed out, ahead of time and under budget. So that’s great, and I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of that.”

The cost of City Hall's facelift, marked by the dark construction mesh at right, has soared, partially due to a new city policy. (Fern Shen, June 2023)

A year ago, the northeast side was covered with scaffolds and dark mesh. Stonemasons and loud construction noises will soon return to City Hall to finish another phase of work. (Fern Shen)

Paying for Inflation

The actual construction documents are more nuanced.

Lorton Stone of Springfield, Virginia, won the marble cleaning contract in February 2020 with a low bid of $6,092,561.

Since then, the company has been awarded $6.3 million more, based on The Brew’s review of the nearly three dozen EWOs submitted to the spending board.

Attila said the payments do not reflect cost overruns on existing work, but rather pay for new phases of building restoration identified by the agency and a consultant engineer.

But included in these costs are hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Lorton resulting from “adverse economic conditions” that came after the contract was awarded.

“We were concerned that people would see change order 31 and think this project had gone off the rails”  – Comptroller Bill Henry.

For example, EWO 31, approved today for $830,728.55, includes unspecified reimbursements in such categories as supply-chain disruptions and high inflation.

Such costs are permitted under a December 2022 resolution that the spending board said will terminate on June 30, 2024.

But prior to that date, individual line items can be raised as much as 50% above the original bid price, according to the resolution.

City Hall dome and slender bell tower in early evening light. (Mark Reutter)

City Hall’s iconic cast-iron dome is leaking heavily, with some sections held together by tape. (Mark Reutter)

Scaffolding and Mesh

There will be two more phases of reconstruction over the next 18 months, it was disclosed today.

Stonemasons will re-drape the Holliday Street side of the building with scaffolding and a dark mesh in the coming months to undertake additional repairs to plug the leaks that allow rainwater to penetrate the five-foot-thick brick walls that hold up the marble facade.

Already loose, the criteria for approving Extras Work Orders are being expanded (6/22/23)

Other work will be conducted on City Hall’s mansard roof and high dome, where iron sections have broken loose and some pieces are secured only by tape, according to DGS.

The board today agreed to transfer $3,450,000 for roof repairs, taking money away from future elevator upgrades.

Any delays in fixing the roof, DGS warned, will lead to damaged government offices and “compound the issues causing higher costs in the long run.”

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