Project Profile: Shot Tower
Scope of work: 16-month, $900,000 renovation of 193-year-old tower
BC&E Member Company involved: Plano-Coudon Construction
It’s not every day that construction workers are called upon to modernize a 14-story, skinny, brick tower from the 1820s where workers once turned molten lead into gunshot. So when Plano-Coudon Construction began working on a plan to turn Baltimore’s Phoenix Shot Tower into a modern cultural attraction, Superintendent Garth Childs approached the work cautiously.
“When I first got there, it was a little scary, not knowing the structure and hearing some of the floor boards creek,” Childs said. “But engineers had gone through the tower and it was definitely structurally sound.”
The building, however, needed some structural reinforcement, upgrades and additions to assorted non-structural elements. The wooden timbers, which had been replaced in 1908, were rotting and several needed to be replaced. A previous roof repair had failed and caused some leaks so workers had to install a new roof membrane. To make the tower suitable for historic displays, cultural events and significant public use, it also needed a completely new electrical system with battery backup, new lighting on each floor, as well as new railings, treads and protective grates for the 14-story, spiral staircase.
The project team faced challenges in making modern renovations work within a historic and unusual structure, and challenges in determining which added materials would be period-specific and which would not.
“But the biggest issue was getting things up and down in the tower,” Childs said.
The building did not have an elevator or cargo lift. Plano-Coudon rigged a pulley system to hoist and lower materials, but even that system had to be operated carefully in the narrow space. The Shot Tower is just 22 feet wide at its base and 12 feet wide at the top.
And there was still the issue of getting people up and down the structure.
“It is all stairs – 301 stairs, to be specific,” he said.
Childs climbed the 140-story stairway five to eight times daily, sometimes registering more stairs than walking steps on his fitness tracker.
“In the beginning of the project, I would get to about the seventh floor and have to stop and take a breath,” he said. “Towards the end, I would go all 14 floors without stopping. It was a terrific workout.”