Annapolis Post Office
Scope of work: Comprehensive interior restoration of historic building
BC&E Member companies involved: Northpoint Builders, Matos Builders, Hilgartner Natural Stone, Hayles & Howe, Diversified Site Works, Aegis Mechanical Corporation
As it turned out, preserving a historic spy tunnel was just the first challenge presented to the project team.
Northpoint Builders and its project partners had been contracted to fully renovate the interior of the historic Annapolis Post Office. In addition to outfitting the 1901 building with modern systems and creating 25,000 square feet of office space for staffers to the Governor and Secretary of State, the project team would have to meticulously restore the building’s historic millwork, stonework, lighting fixtures, plaster and other historic features. And of course, that included the spy tunnel.
“There’s a tunnel, about three feet wide and six feet high, between the first and second floors. It starts at the postmaster’s office on the second floor and runs all through the building. Throughout, there are these peephole slots in the floor so that the postmaster could spy on workers in every part of the building and make sure work was done according to federal guidelines,” said Cherelle Reno, Project Executive.
Crews would have to preserve the historic tunnel while also finding ways to run new mechanical, electrical, telecommunications and life safety systems around it. Full as-built drawings for the original construction and major renovations in 1925 and 1939 were not available. Mindful of the need to preserve historic plaster walls, the project team engaged in extensive, cautious investigation. They worked to limit wall penetrations to areas where plaster was already damaged and developed a strategy for installing building systems.
“But the building threw lots of surprises at us,” Reno said. “We started work in one location where we were confident we could run ductwork and conduit. But when we opened it up, it was full of structural steel.”
The rest of the building was rife with challenges. Its terra cotta blocks were brittle so crews had to take extra precautions to prevent damage. The plaster ceilings were curved and the walls had curved corners, complicating restoration. Workers discovered unanticipated lead and asbestos contamination. Many sections of historic wood were peeling, delaminating or rotting. To preserve as much historic material as possible, a three-person team documented conditions in each room, linear foot by linear foot, to determine what should be restored or replaced.
Then craftsmen customized restoration plans for each room “based on how the millwork had aged and how the light came into the room. In each room, they adjusted the stain samples to work with the unique conditions,” Reno said.
Due to COVID-19, the project team also had to operate for six months without having the architect, structural engineer or state project manager onsite. “But we got very proficient at Facetime meetings and photo documentation and virtual tours,” Reno said.