B&O Railroad Museum officials offer timeline for rebuilding site

In best-case scenario, roundhouse roof may be fixed by end of the year

March 13, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Still uncertain when its badly damaged roundhouse will be fixed, a B&O Railroad Museum official offered yesterday a best-case scenario, saying rebuilding could be completed by the end of this year.

"All of this is not subject to great, accurate prediction at this time but the goal is the end of the year," said James T. Brady, chairman of the museum's board of directors.

Officials said the remaining portion of the lower roof over the roundhouse will likely have to be taken down in order to rebuild the slate roof over the 45,000-square-foot building. The upper roof in the building's cupola can remain intact, said Courtney B. Wilson, B&O executive director.

About 50 percent of the lower roof -- the main roof -- collapsed the morning of Feb. 17 during a record snowstorm. By most accounts, the roof should have been able to withstand the weight of the snow, and Wilson has said building engineers are trying to pinpoint whether there was a structural defect or simply deterioration in the building, which was built in 1884.

The museum is closed indefinitely and officials, expecting a difficult recovery, have canceled events and catered engagements through the year.

The main issue dictating the museum's schedule for reopening is money. The museum is about to start a campaign to raise funds to assist efforts to rebuild and restore damaged museum pieces. B&O officials say they do not know how much repairs will cost.

B&O officials intend to replicate the exposed trusses and other facets of the roof that could be seen from inside the museum and again use slate on the outside, primarily so as not to threaten the building's landmark status.

Brady said he felt confident the museum's insurance would cover the rebuilding of the roundhouse but is less sure about how much insurance will cover the museum's prized collection of 19th-century rail vehicles and memorabilia -- some of which was damaged or destroyed.

"Clearly, we're going to need assistance," he said.

Scaffolding has been placed under the remaining roundhouse roof for stability, and the process of clearing debris and moving railway artifacts into other buildings on the B&O grounds will continue. Wilson said assessment of the museum's collection is not complete and has been slowed by efforts of contractors to secure the structure.

The B&O held a news conference yesterday and allowed reporters to step inside the roundhouse for the first time since the collapse. Under a gaping hole and surrounded by debris that had crashed onto rail vehicles, museum officials carved out a small area to place a podium.

To the left of the podium, a yellow, wooden rail car had shards of roundhouse roofing protruding from its top. On the other side, a locomotive was buried under debris, but its tender -- probably used in the early 1900s to carry coal -- was still attached and filled with broken wood, steel and slate shingles.

At the news conference, Brady and Wilson were joined by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. They mostly offered cheery words about wanting to see the B&O restored as a better museum.

"The focus right now is on the future and what this museum can be," Brady said.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., Century Engineering Inc. and SMG Architects have been hired to stabilize the roundhouse, Wilson said. Principals at Century and SMG serve on the B&O's board of directors.

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