There’s a waiting list to live there now, but the four-story 108-year-old Poehler (pronounced “polar”) Loft Apartments, Lawrence, Kan., entered 2012 as an empty, decrepit brick warehouse.
Winter winds whistled through the walls.
It took MCM Restoration, Fort Scott, Kan., less than year to help transform the aged building from dirty abandoned hulk to coveted, affordable living space.
“Paint stripping the inside was one of the hardest parts of the job,” said project manager and company president Craig McKenney.
White paint, applied decades before, covered the interior of the former grocery distribution center. The design for the loft apartments called for exposing the century-old bricks, so the paint had to go.
The years had cured the dirty coating to rocklike hardness on most of the walls, and vandals had added graffiti. Abrasive blast media with crushed walnut shells, then sand were both auditioned, but neither did the complete trick, since much of the paint had penetrated into the masonry pores and irregularities where it continued to harden for years.
A two-step strike with PROSOCO’s Sure Klean® Heavy Duty Paint Stripper, followed by Sure Klean® Limestone & Masonry Afterwash effectively dissolved most of the stubborn old coating. Brushed on and pressure-rinsed off, the alkaline paint stripper pursued the paint into the substrate, breaking its time-hardened bonds.
Pressure-washing with the mildly acidic afterwash neutralized the surface pH and added an additional cleaning and brightening effect.
Cleaning was only half the battle, McKenney said. Managing the rinse-water to meet local regulations took its own share of planning and attention.
Before cleaning could begin, McKenney had about 100 samples of the paint tested for heavy metals such as lead. The tests returned negative.
The company then had to devise a plan for capturing the rinse-water, monitoring the pH, and filtering out the solids before it could be released to the Lawrence water treatment plant.
The plan included a timetable forecasting gallons per hour produced, and when they’d be released.
“You have to prove to the officials you’re not going to hurt their facility,” McKenney said. “They want to know exactly what you’re sending, how much, and when you’re sending it.”
MCM Restoration met the city’s requirements. They captured the rinse-water in dams of sheet plastic and roofing roll. Pumped into three successive vats, the solids settled to the bottom. The spent cleaner and rinse-water, cleared of solids, got neutralized and pre-treated until it met the specs for release to the water treatment plant.
In addition to paint stripping, McKenney’s crews spent the cold winter months cleaning the interior, repairing the interior sides of the neglected masonry, and cutting 60 new rough openings for windows and doors in the thick masonry walls.
With Spring and warmer weather, the MCM Restoration crewmembers turned their attention to cleaning and repairing the exterior, while interior construction and renovation continued.
“The outside of the building was in some disrepair, especially the parapets,” McKenney said. The bricks had been laid with a soft lime mortar. Over the decades they’d washed out.
“You could pick out the bricks by hand,” he said. “We took one parapet wall down about 12 inches by hand before we completely rebuilt it.”
Some of the building’s problems resulted from the nearby railroad tracks. Harmonic vibrations from thousands of passing trains rattled the building and over time, combined with building movement and freeze-thaw cycling to weaken the mortar joints and crack the masonry.
The trains also contributed a thin film of atmospheric staining to the masonry from diesel emissions.
“Some of that film may have even dated back to smoke from coal-powered trains,” McKenney said.
More modern and noticeable was the bright, fierce graffiti splashed along the building’s lower levels. Though MCM Restoration had the grit, grime and graffiti in their sights for removal, masonry repair took first priority.
The building had enough gaps and cracks for wind to create drafts inside the building, despite walls seven wythes thick at the first story, tapering to a still relatively thick three wythes at the top.
“Wind can get in anywhere there’s an opening,” McKenney said, “even by the most indirect routes.”
Most of the replacement of spalled, cracked and missing brick took place on the building’s south elevation, where gutters had failed and water ran rampant down and in the wall. The masons replaced about 25 percent of the building’s brick on the South side.
The other elevations, in better shape, had less damaged brick.
MCM Restoration tuckpointed about 45 percent of the century-old masonry, shoring up the old building’s air- and water-tight integrity.
Poehler Building’s original builders did a good job, McKenney said. The masonry held together well despite time and neglect.
Following repairs, the exterior masonry got a double scrubbing.
First, the crew removed excess mortar and clarified joints from the tuckpointing and brick replacements with PROSOCO’s Sure Klean® 600 new construction cleaner. Then they washed the masonry free of its thin film of grit, grime and atmospheric staining with Sure Klean® Light Duty Restoration Cleaner.
They spot-cleaned thicker deposits with Sure Klean® Heavy Duty Restoration Cleaner. Exterior graffiti was no match for the same Heavy Duty Paint Stripper and Limestone & Masonry Afterwash combination that removed the petrified white coating and graffiti from the interior.
Goedecke, Kansas City, Mo., supplied the project’s cleaning materials.
By the end of July, the restored Poehler Building was ready for its second life as the Poehler Loft Apartments.
“After more than a hundred years, it may not look as good as when they built it,” McKenney said, “but it’s going to come close.”
Evidently some people liked the looks of the Poehler Loft Apartments. According to a July 25 article in the local newspaper, the Lawrence Journal-World, all 49 of the building’s units leased within 12 hours of opening – with 70 more on a waiting list.
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