‘Fire won’t delay restoration’

2009-08-13 00:00

RESTORATION work is well under way in the fire-damaged Colonial Building and completion is expected by the original deadline — June 2010.

The only feature that may take longer is the rebuilding of the imposing central dome, a distinctive feature of the historic building that was gutted in the fire.

Maritzburgers will not see the dome for a while, but it is definitely going to be rebuilt. With luck it may even be completed by deadline.

Project architect Nick Grice said plans are being drawn up for the central dome from photographs, as there are no similar original structures to copy. Replicating the two smaller domes will not be a problem, he added, because exact replicas stand on the opposite side of the building, which was not affected by the fire.

According to Grice, the challenge now is to get the roof in place before the rainy season starts, so that the restoration work already carried out within the building is preserved.

It will be a race against time. Even before construction of the roof gets under way the entire second floor, which collapsed in the fire, has to be rebuilt so that scaffolding can be erected to reach the roof.

He said it is proving to be both a complex and a fascinating exercise for the construction team.

The timber available today is not of the same strength as the original beams.

In addition there are wedges built into the walls to accommodate the beams, and the builders have to get the heights and angle­s exactly right to fit the wedges.

The domes were all made of timber shaped and moulded by master craftsmen and covered in sheets of lead to protect them from the elements and to give the building a long lifespan.

However, when the building was left to stand empty from 1997, thieves began removing the copper and lead from the roof, leaving gaping holes. Rainfall in the ensuing 11 years caused extensive damage to the interior .

Grice said the new domes are going to be built in steel as this is a lighter and simpler material to work with.

The idea is to get the steel structure prefabricated and then lifted by crane to the top of the building.

Grice said that at this stage they are hopeful that they will find the craftsmen to replicate some of the intricate lead work used in the design of the original dome.

Renovations started in July 2008 and Grice said good progress has been made. He pointed out that the Colonial Building complex is extensive and stretches from Church Street to Pietermaritz Street. Work was carried out simultaneously in all sections.

Fortunately, says Grice, the fire-damaged section is a small part of the larger complex.

The extent of the progress on the project is clearly visible from the Pietermaritz Street side. 

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