Rhode Island State House Restored with Whitacre Greer Pavers and Georgia Marble

By Philip Marcelo
The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE –– To those attending the inauguration of Governor-elect Lincoln D. Chafee and other state officeholders on the State House steps on Jan. 4: that marble you’ll be standing on is new — and pricey.

Most of the 107-year-old marble-and-brick plaza that stretches out from the State House toward downtown was replaced over the last five months, at a cost of $993,000.

The 107-year-old plaza, which has been the setting for countless political rallies, cultural celebrations and civic events, had been damaged over the years.

Heavy use — including damage inflicted by vehicles that were, until recently, allowed on the plaza — cracked many of the marble slabs that make up the 12,606-square-foot plaza, according to Ronald N. Renaud, executive director of the state Department of Administration. The damage posed a serious safety risk if someone tripped and fell, he said.

More than 90 percent of the marble and about half the bricks have been replaced, according to Thomas E. Wright, who, as assistant director for special projects at the state Department of Administration, is coordinating the project.

Using money allocated this year in the state’s capital-improvement budget, the state purchased 912 white marble pieces — weighing just over 112 tons — from Polycor Georgia Marble, the Tate, Ga., marble quarry where the original marble for the plaza came from more than 100 years ago.

The state purchased about 11,000 bricks from Whitacre-Greer in Alliance, Ohio, where the original brickyard was located.

Unlike other parts of the State House exterior, where a slightly different marble had been used to replace broken slabs, the new marble in the plaza blends easily with the rest of the building, Wright said. Where it was possible, the original marble and bricks were salvaged and preserved.

The project “preserves the true beauty and luster of the building and keeps with state historic preservation standards,” he said.

Started in August while lawmakers were on summer recess, it is the fourth part of a five-phase project begun about a decade ago to improve the American Renaissance icon, which boasts the world’s fourth-largest unsupported marble dome and was completed in 1904.

About 10 years ago, the state replaced the marble-and-brick plaza that faces Smith Street, the entrance for most people doing business in the State House and another popular spot for political rallies and civic events. That project cost $3.6 million and included improvements to other outside marble pieces, the guard station and cobblestone and brass fixtures.

The state also spent another $4.15 million to replace marble on outside terraces, steps and walkways from 2000 to 2003 as part of the same project, according to Wright. The total cost of the project has been about $8.75 million.

Inside the State House, crews are installing a new sprinkler system in the basement as a separate project to comply with the state fire code. That project, which costs $147,200, is set to be completed at the end of the month by AAA Sprinkler Co., of Warwick.

Shifting capital-spending priorities to the sprinkler-system installation and other more pressing work forced the state to delay repairs to the downtown-facing plaza, but the situation has only worsened in recent years, said Wright.

“This is not something that just happened. It is something that has been done over decades,” Wright said. “We’re just trying to make it the way it was in 1903 the best we can.”

The marble-and-brick replacement work finished last week.

A crew of about 20 workers from Kenneth Castellucci and Associates, the Lincoln-based firm that won the $1-million contract, are laying sod around the plaza, taking down fencing that cordoned off the construction site and putting the finishing touches on the plaza itself. The company’s contract also calls for work on outside stairways and other patio areas.

The final phase of the outside improvements, according to Renaud, starts next summer with an overhaul of the parking lots adjacent to the building that are used by lawmakers and staff.

“Hopefully, with the right care,” he said, “this marble will last another 100 years.”