Historic hospital gets new cupola

Sheppard Pratt building was damaged by lightning

May 05, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Eight months after the Victorian cupola of a historic Sheppard Pratt hospital building in Towson collapsed in a four-alarm fire, work crews raised a 17,000-pound replacement yesterday afternoon.

The installation restores the 113-year-old tower of the B Building, which, with its companion A Building, is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The cupola's replacement also provides a sense of closure for psychiatric patients traumatized by last summer's fire and ensuing evacuation, hospital staff said.

"This, to me, is kind of a healing experience," said Cindy Coates, a mental health worker in the Sheppard Pratt Health System's trauma unit. The unit's wing begins at the stairwell in the tower that caught fire.

"It feels like we're putting the building back together, which is kind of symbolic of what we do here," Coates said. "We put people's lives back together."

The fire started about 8 p.m. Aug. 27, when severe thunderstorms fired off a bolt of lighting that struck the cupola of the brick building, forcing the evacuation of 51 patients in the in-patient treatment facility and 10 staff members.

Baltimore County firefighters fought the blaze for more than an hour but could not save the ornate wooden and slate rooftop section. No one was seriously injured in the blaze, which also caused relatively minor smoke and water damage to the hospital building, said Thomas D. Hess, special assistant to Sheppard Pratt's president.

The A and B buildings -- mirror images of each other, from graceful bay windows and lattice-work balconies to the cupola-topped towers -- are considered among Towson's most elegant structures.

Reconstructing the cupola cost $398,588, hospital officials said.

Designers and architects who worked on the project relied on measurements of the A Building's still-standing cupola and on original drawings of the B Building's vaulted dome, which is 25 feet high and has a 15-by-18-foot base.

Construction of the new structure -- designed by HDR Architecture in consultation with local architect Peter Pearre -- began in February at Jarvis Steel and Lumber of Brooklyn Park. The steel cupola was moved in three pieces to the hospital grounds about two weeks ago and assembled there.

Yesterday's installation drew a crowd of hospital staff and patients, who marveled at the quickness with which the steel structure was hoisted 80 feet in the air and affixed to the tower.

"Piece by piece, we watched it get put together" over the past two weeks, said Brenda, a 40-year-old patient who said she was not allowed to disclose her last name. "It was like putting a giant puzzle together. It was awesome and exciting to watch it go back up."

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