STOPPING short of declaring Newcastle City Hall’s clock tower cured of concrete cancer, the man tasked with restoring it says “it’s in remission”.
Work began on the once-decaying tower 18 months ago, and workers removed its protective wrap on Wednesday and set about dismantling a maze of scaffolding.
“It’s all been done with the best materials, the best practices and the best value for money,” stone mason Rick Timperi said. “We had the April storm to deal with; we took out about a third of the scaffolding. But we didn’t shut the road, not once.”
Mr Timperi, a former Olympic boxer whose company Stone Mason & Artist was contracted by Newcastle City Council to restore the tower, said every measure been taken to rid it of the concrete cancer found in 2011.
The $5 million tower restoration will be finished on time and “well within budget”, the council’s project manager Kevin Moriarty said. The scaffolding will be down in 10 working days, weather permitting.
Restoring the tower has taken 100 cubic metres of sandstone sourced from George Street in Sydney.
Two hundred and fifty tonnes of stone has gone into restoring the tower, and 80 tons of scaffolding.
Hampered by the April storm and Newcastle’s record January rainfall, workers have also had to battle the legacy of “less than ideal” repairs carried out in the 1980s, to the standards of the time.
The four clock faces have been removed, sandblasted and, in a workshop at Wyong, refitted with laminated safety glass.
The clock faces will be backlit by a new LED system that will project multiple colours. A new masterclock has been installed and, following a principle of “restoration over replacement”, Mr Moriarty said, the original brass bell has been kept.
“The bell was in good nick,” Mr Timperi said.
The tower’s original features have been retained where possible, including a crowning copper urn that evokes the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Some of the original stonework detail, such as an ox head motif common in Europe, has been restored by freehand masonry.
The next stage of the City Hall work will take place on the southern and eastern sides and will include replacing and waterproofing sandstone.
Windows will also be restored, as well as a balcony and an entry ramp.
Three years ago, the future of the 1929 building was uncertain. Newcastle’s civic centrepiece was shedding its skin.
The walls and fittings at street level were crumbling in the hands of passers-by, and concrete cancer had set in within the sandstone cladding of the bellchamber.
The council placed ads in national newspapers calling for submissions “on potential restoration techniques”.
The contract went to Sydney-based Stone Mason & Artist, whose Roman-born managing director Mr Timperi led Australia’s boxing team in Barcelona and Atlanta.
The company has previously carried out work on Sydney’s Town Hall, Queen Victoria Building and No.1 Martin Place, and restorations in Newcastle don’t come more visible than City Hall.
Restoring a patch of the building’s eastern side in 2010 had cost $2 million, and yielded valuable lessons.
Workers replacing window fittings struck a reserve of asbestos that triggered a raft of health and safety precautions, and a set of steel pins securing the facade caused further problems.
The pins, inserted between stone blocks, provided entry points for moisture and had corroded over the decades.
Workers have built around similar weak spots in the tower in the latest restoration, and wrought the sandstone using techniques to direct future moisture away from the walls.
The next stage of the City Hall work will take place on the southern and eastern sides and will include replacing and waterproofing sandstone, and restoring windows, a balcony and an entry ramp.