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RENOVATION REPORT: Levine Museum of the New South

RenReportPhoto.webBack in 2012, the Levine Museum of the New South got some good news. The Charlotte icon was one of nine organizations awarded a facilities and capital-improvement grant by the renowned Kresge Foundation. The $890,000 couldn’t have come at a better time.

The museum, which showcases the diverse history of the South after the Civil War through exhibitions, programs and events, was showing its age. The building was constructed in the 1930s and had previously been home to a warehouse and, later, an architectural firm. The 32,000-square-foot roof was leaking into the edifice’s interior. In addition, rainwater was not draining properly away from the structure, causing it to seep between the substrate and façade.

The entrance on Seventh Street also posed a challenge. The pavers lining the ground nearby had settled, causing puddling. Meanwhile, excess water was collecting at the bottom of the 40,000-square-foot building, causing the sandstone exterior to flake off.

“As a cultural institution, we felt it necessary to balance the financial, practical and aesthetic requirements with whatever our solution was,” said Steve Bentley, chief operating officer.

The museum opted to tackle the 20-year-old roof first. It found the cause of the leaks – there were 19 HVAC units on the flat surface. The seals around the bolts keeping the equipment in place had eroded, allowing water to drip through.

Harold Lathan, facilities manager, says replacing the existing roof with an 80-millimeter thick thermoplastic polyolefin adhesive membrane was quite an ordeal. The weather-resistant material, which is applied directly over insulation, comes in 10-foot rolls. Workers had to apply the gluey substance around the HVAC handlers, as well as humidifiers and duct work.

“It seemed there was a piece of equipment every ten feet,” Lathan said.

Next came the façade and front entrance. Staff weighed affordability against maintaining the integrity of the site. “We went round and round on how to do the exterior,” Bentley said. The museum hired Heard Ratzlaff Construction Inc. to pull off the signage and sandstone tiles at the top of the building and replace the siding with an exterior insulation and finishing system (EIFS), an adhesive type of wall cladding that insulates and waterproofs. The company also added stainless-steel flashing around the base of the building to ensure against further leakage.

The entryway posed a larger challenge, said Bentley, because of the way it was installed. Craftsmen tore up the paving bricks, sidewalk and front steps. They also extended and improved the area’s plaza by moving the front steps another 9 feet or so towards the street and adding new pavement and a handicapped ramp.

“We believe this solution secures the building in a permanent way,” Bentley said, adding that the new entrance is more inviting. “We now have peace of mind that the building is in great shape.”

Lathan, who oversaw management of the 14-month project, said it was a bit stressful at times. He faced plan changes, zoning requirements targeting the size of a sign and whether it is a sign or art, and tight inspections. But, he said, he also enjoyed the process, as he likes to solve problems.

Still, Lathan and Bentley are a bit relieved that construction is nearing completion.

“The roof is good for 20 years,” Lathan said. “The plaza is good until the building comes down. Those are two worries off my chest.”

Project description: New roof and renovation of building façade and front plaza at the Levine Museum of the New South

Address: 200 E. Seventh Street

Contractor: Heard Ratzlaff Construction Inc.

Cost: $300,000

Construction started: October 2013

Construction completed: November 2014

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