City about to turn over the President's House

20150817-Presidents-House
The city is close to turning over its effort to fashion a functioning President's House to the care of Independence National Historical Park.

After nearly five years of intermittently blank and soundless video screens; leaking glass and torn-up paving tiles; fogged-up windows; and repeated efforts to stanch water and repair breakdowns, the city is close to turning over its effort to fashion a functioning President's House to the care of Independence National Historical Park.

The city managed both design and construction of the $10.5 million commemorative site, which marks the spot where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived and worked, and where Washington held nine enslaved Africans.

In December 2010, capping more than two years of construction, Mayor Nutter declared the "critical part of the national history" open to the public.

Problems began immediately.

Five sleek video monitors, used to tell the dramatic stories of Africans associated with the site, repeatedly failed to function. They eventually were scrapped and new monitors - far less sleek but more rugged - were installed. They've failed repeatedly as well.

The vitrine covering archaeological remains of the actual President's House promptly began leaking and fogging over, threatening the stability of the ruins below. Water seeped in and dripped through paving.

"There have been continuing issues," said Everett Gillison, Nutter's chief of staff. "My goal is to transfer something that meets all the criteria set out" for the site in the city's agreement with Independence Park.

The city, managing the project, awarded the design and building contract to Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners in 2007.

Cynthia MacLeod, park superintendent, said that in April, the park agreed to accept the city's effort; officials are now working through a final "punch list" of issues.

"Things were resolved," she said of the problems, "or it was clear that they weren't going to be resolved."

It still is unclear whether water seepage has been resolved, but Gillison said the city was wrapping up its leak work.

"We're now down to a small condensation issue," he said, referring to moisture on the inside of the vitrine. "What used to be a very big problem is now a small problem."

Park Service officials, who once threatened to cover the site with sand if the city didn't repair the leaks, say the city has made a substantial effort over the past year.

"We do think it's leaking," MacLeod said. "It's also true that five years after installation, when does it become a maintenance issue and not a design issue?"

The video monitors have been plagued with software and hardware problems.

MacLeod said, however, that the park has identified $50,000 in a federal fund that can be tapped to help resolve the video issues. The city already has transferred part of a $2 million site-maintenance endowment, and endowment funds will match the park funds to install a new video system.

MacLeod said she would like to have new monitors in place by next spring.

"We're going to take responsibility," she said, "and we're going to move forward."


ssalisbury@phillynews.com

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@SPSalisbury

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