The Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, Kansas City, Mo.
Photos courtesy JE Dunn
Once housing the power plant for nearby Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., this 1914 Jarvis Hunt-designed building is now the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, and houses the Kansas City Ballet.
It was a powerhouse then.
It’s a powerhouse now.
For nearly 60 years this 1914 Jarvis Hunt-designed coal-fired power plant supplied steam-generated electricity to Union Station, once the second-biggest train station in the U.S.
Now the 60,000 square-foot Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity helps power the Kansas City arts community as home to the Kansas City Ballet and K.C. Ballet School.
Space formerly used for cranes and boilers turned out to be well-suited to the needs of a dance studio.
In between, the powerhouse stood vacant and abandoned for nearly 40 years. It went through an epic restoration 2009-2011 designed by Kansas City, Mo., architectural firm BNIM and executed by general contractor JE Dunn, also headquartered in Kansas City.
In 2012, the project garnered six awards for restoration, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “National Preservation Honor Award.” That’s on top of four previous honors in 2011.
Next year, the power house turns 100.
The job of overseeing the transformation of the interior and exterior masonry from decaying shell to elegant envelope fell to the project’s masonry foreman Pete Johnson.
“To be honest, when I first saw it, I thought ‘we’re going to fix this?’ To me it looked like it should be taken down.”
Union Station Power House facility, front entrance, shortly before restoration begins, 2009.
Mr. Johnson soon changed his mind as he got a closer look at the century-old 22-inch thick masonry walls.
“I have no idea how they accomplished some of the things they did, given the means they had at their disposal back then,” he said. “They built a structure that could stand for a century. And that’s with being abandoned for 40 years.”
Despite the craftsmanship, the masonry fabric still needed serious attention, Mr. Johnson said.
That attention began with tuckpointing the walls, including grinding out the joints three-quarters of an inch deep and pressure-rinsing before installing the mortar.
“We let the mortar set up a day or two,” Mr. Johnson said. “Then we cleaned with (Sure Klean®) 600.”
Though made for new masonry construction, 600 removes excess mortar from tuckpointed historic masonry as well. It also dissolved most of the accumulated contaminants that had darkened the brick.
The cream-colored terra cotta trim also needed work, Mr. Johnson said. The decades had turned it completely black in places, particularly along the bottom edges of the trim.
The terra cotta trim was particularly dirty along its bottom edges.
The likely cause, he said was smoke from trains and furnaces, and the years of neglect.
What was certain was that the first specialized cleaner they tried barely affected the dark coating. But the next one, PROSOCO’s Sure Klean® Restoration Cleaner worked “like magic.”
“We sprayed it on, let it sit for minute or two, scrubbed it a little and rinsed it off. It was like night to day the way that black came off the terra cotta.”
Efflorescence also proved a challenge, Mr. Johnson said, at least until the powerhouse got its new roof. Water from frequent rains falling into the open cavities evaporated out through the brick face, leaving efflorescence’s trademark powdery white deposits.
The efflorescence showed up mostly on the South side and Southwest corner of the building, Mr. Johnson said. The JE Dunn crew spot-cleaned it with Sure Klean® Vana Trol, another PROSOCO new masonry cleaner made for addressing efflorescence and metallic staining as well as removing excess mortar and other common job site contaminants.
Once the roof was on, keeping water out of the walls, the efflorescence stopped showing up, Mr. Johnson said.
The crew began repairs and cleaning on the rectangular building’s long North side, then moved to the West (front entrance) elevation, then to the South and East.
They worked in top-to-bottom drops about 72 feet across, Mr. Johnson said. The cleaning crew followed the repair crew section-by-section all around the building.
Mr. Johnson’s crews applied the 600 to the brick and the Restoration Cleaner to the terra cotta the traditional way — with bucket and brush.
Though the cleaners can be sprayed, Mr. Johnson didn’t want to take any chances with wind-drift because of the building’s historic windows and the proximity of traffic.
JE Dunn cleaned the masonry via the traditional bucket-and-brush method to protect these painstakingly replicated historic wood windows. Note the bottom edges of the terra cotta trim, now free of its black soiling.
Interior masonry walls also needed cleaning and repair, Mr. Johnson said, though the bigger challenge inside, he said, was working with and around the other trades as they hustled to meet their own goals.
“They were pouring new concrete floors, putting in the stairwells and elevator shafts, hanging sheetrock, anything you can imagine, all while we were trying to wash the building.
“Communication was essential,” he said.
A 15-foot tree sprouting from the bricks of the powerhouse’s chimney presented an unusual challenge.
“There were several trees growing up on the roof,” Mr. Johnson said. “But that was the biggest one.”
The tree’s root, about 50-feet long, had wrapped all around the chimney under the brick. Mr. Johnson’s crew got it out, but had to rebuild most of the chimney, which was set to be converted into a skylight.
The cleaned, repaired powerhouse then got an application of Sure Klean® Weather Seal Siloxane PD, pre-diluted water repellent.
The water-based treatment penetrates the microscopic masonry pores and bonds to the substrate, imparting water repellency from beneath the surface.
Because it’s a penetrating treatment, it doesn’t change the appearance or texture of the masonry. Siloxane PD is also “breathable” — it lets moisture evaporate out of the masonry, while blocking penetration of liquid water.
Interior masonry needed cleaning and repair as well, though the bigger challenge was getting it done in concert with other trades.
The JE Dunn crews applied the Siloxane PD with bucket and brush just as they did the cleaners.
By project’s end, the team had removed and replaced 17,500 bricks, 268 pieces of terra cotta, and 158,000 linear feet of mortar joints. They cleaned and sealed 134,000 square feet of brick and terra cotta.*
Mr. Johnson said he found the project more challenging than most of the new construction projects he works on.
“This was literally a dirty job,” Mr. Johnson said. “There was dust everywhere all the time. We went through a lot of trial and error, from deciding on the right masonry cleaners to figuring out the best way to shore up walls for cutting new windows and doors.
“We pulled weeds on the roof. That’s not something masons do every day,” Mr. Johnson said. “But every time I drive past that building and remember what it looked like the day we started, I feel tremendous satisfaction.”
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*Figures from Power: The Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity,” published by BNIM and the Kansas City Ballet
BNIM’s design and JE Dunn’s execution transformed the former powerhouse chimney into a skylight on the catwalk along the building’s second level.
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