An inspection of the Capitol dome found “selected pitting and abrasion of the gilded finish,” which engineers speculate may be caused by dirt particles hitting the dome during wind gusts, and not by pyrotechnics that struck the dome during last year’s sesquicentennial celebration.
The report by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects concludes that areas of lost gilding are minimal, and that paint coatings underneath remain intact, and does not recommend any touch-up gilding at this time. It was released Tuesday by the Department of Administration.
Joe Mullins, the Charleston sculptor and artist who first raised issues about possible damage to the dome from the fireworks strikes, said Tuesday he was skeptical of the findings.
“If they conclude the gilding could be damaged by wind-blown dust particles in 50 mph gusts, I would think that with 100 mph and 3,000- to 5,000-degree pyrotechnics, the logical conclusion would be perhaps they could cause damage as well,” he said.
As a sculptor who frequently works with gold gilding, Mullins raised concerns after the three nights of fireworks shows commemorating the state’s 150th birthday, warning that pyrotechnics hitting the dome could have damaged the tissue-paper thin gild.
In response, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin moved up a scheduled 10-year inspection of the dome by Swanke Hayden Connell, the company that oversaw the 2005 restoration and regilding of the Capitol dome, by about 18 months.
According to the report, site visits to the dome were conducted Feb. 20-21 with a team including architects, engineers, and a representative of the company that gilded the dome.
The inspection report notes that the inspection was moved up from the summer of 2015, in part, “to assess if the coatings were damaged during the fireworks shows.”
It notes that from street level, “the gilded finishes appear to be as bright and reflective as they were on the date of installation.”
“Upon closer inspection of the dome, we observed selective areas of deterioration from overall effects of weathering and possible impact damage,” the report states.
“Several small areas of indentations documented during the recent assessment were initially thought to be impact damage either from hail stones or debris from pyrotechnics,” it states.
However, the report concludes that, after reviewing photographs taken when the regilding was completed in 2005, the indentations were confirmed to be pre-existing conditions, and not new areas of damage.
The report states that the inspection “does support the notion” that dirt particulates are striking the dome during high wind gusts, “resulting in selected pitting and abrasion of the gilded finish. Many of these locations are quite small and could only be observed using binoculars.”
The report notes that during a site inspection of the lantern at the top of the dome, wind of upward of 50 mph were detected.
“In general, the painted and gilded coatings on the dome are aging and performing well,” the report concludes. “We fully anticipate the gilding to be serviceable for at least another 15 to 20 years and possibly longer if there are no detrimental climate changes or increased air pollution.”
Mullins, meanwhile, suggested the report goes out of its way to blame the damage to the dome on wind-blown particles, perhaps to absolve state officials who approved the fireworks displays over the Capitol dome June 20, 21, and 22, 2013.
“If it’s wind-driven, it should be predominately on the west side of the dome,” he said of damage to the gilding. “There should be significantly more damage on the west side than the east side.”
The report does not specify what areas of the dome have damage, and an executive summary of the inspection and evaluation report provided by the administration does not include any photographs or illustrations.
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