Originally created 10/06/01

Savannah statue nears restoration



SAVANNAH - It's been poked, prodded, scraped and tested. But it still isn't clear exactly what ails the Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park.

The stone tower is beginning to crumble after 126 years of exposure to the elements. A 1920s-era waterproofing effort probably made things worse, trapping moisture inside the Nova Scotia sandstone. The lone bronze soldier standing guard at the top likely hasn't been cleaned or gotten a new patina since 1879, when he began gazing northward over Savannah.

The monument will soon have a doctor's appointment. City council is expected to approve a $29,650 contract for a Philadelphia architecture group, DPK&A, to analyze what's wrong with the monument and how it might be fixed.

There's money in the budget for some emergency medicine - but the monument to the South's fallen soldiers won't get long-term treatment any time soon.

Billy Jones, the director of the city's Facilities Maintenance Department, said the company would determine whether any small, immediate steps are needed to stabilize the structure. But the study would focus on long-range repairs and conservation efforts, the kind that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months or even years.

Mr. Jones doesn't expect a repeat of the problems that beset renovation of the nearby Pulaski Monument. That process took more than four years and came in way over budget at $900,000. It also taught the city to expect unknowns when dealing with delicate old stone treasures.

DPK&A is no stranger to Savannah; it designed the rehabilitation of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Carl Doebley, the DPK&A partner in charge of conservation and restoration projects, said one of the biggest questions is what's at the core of the monument. To find out, workers will select areas to examine behind the bas-relief sculptures. They'll also use an electron microscope to look at the stone on a molecular level and figure out why it's disintegrating.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Doebley said they hope not to have to take the monument apart, as was the case with Pulaski.

"We're going to do everything possible to not take down that monument. I've been told that to take that down, because of the material it's constructed of, it would be practically impossible to reassemble it again," Mr. Jones said.

The man who's probably most familiar with the Confederate Monument cautions that the project will be lengthy and expensive.

James Wermuth, the conservator of the Conservation Technology Group, oversaw a detailed assessment of all of Savannah's monuments and an in-depth, 11-month study of the Confederate Monument. He said the company amassed hundreds of pages of data and a thousand images detailing the monument, submitted to the city last year. He's perplexed that the city is paying for another study, though he knows renovation will be a mammoth undertaking.

"It's probably going to be a far more extensive project and expensive project than Pulaski," Mr. Wermuth said.

The city's five-year capital improvement plan calls for $494,650 in funding for the Confederate Monument. Mr. Wer-muth told city officials work could cost as much as $1 million, a figure he said they didn't want shared with the public.

Alderman Courtney Flexon hopes it doesn't get that high. But the number shouldn't scare the city off the project.

"I hope that's wrong, but if it is a million, then we roll up our sleeves and get some private funds to match what we have available," Mr. Flexon said.