Here's how a bit of Bergner's is keeping Peoria City Hall in prime shape for years to come
Keeping a 125-year-old building in tip-top condition is no easy feat, especially when that building also holds the distinction of being named the nation's best city hall.
City Hall's outer façade is composed of Lake Superior sandstone. City spokesperson Stacy Peterson calls it a "tremendous material" with high heat resistance.
"It's wonderful if you're looking at fire resistant materials, but it is also a little porous and prone to deterioration because of the elements," she said.
Back in the late 19th century, Lake Superior sandstone was plentiful. It was quarried up in Michigan and ferried down the waterways in large chunks to sites like Peoria, where it was broken down into blocks for construction usage.
But today, Peterson said it's hard to obtain the sandstone. The city has an ace in the hole, however.
"I guess you could look at this as fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint. But when the Bergner's downtown location closed and was torn down, the exterior of that building was Lake Superior sandstone," she said. "And the leaders at that time made an arrangement to take those stones and keep them in surplus for us for this building."
The city budgeted $100,000 last year for exterior repairs to city hall. This year, repairs are estimated at about $50,000. That work includes mortar work, tuckpointing, and exterior work on the building from ground level to about 16 feet up, where the weathering damage is most extreme.
Contractors from Otto Baum Company of Morton are taking out the old stone and cutting down the surplus stone to fit into place, kind of like a puzzle. The contractors then put the new stone in, mortar it, and insert shims in around the block. If it sets correctly, the mortar work is wrapped up the next day.
Peterson said it's a time-consuming, laborious process that's basically performed the same way today that it was when workers were first putting up the building in the late 1800s.
City Hall cost $235,000 to erect back in those days. Peterson said maintenance on the building is continuous, but the city is committed to maintaining the investment.
"We get a lot of use out of it. It's a jewel of downtown. And, you know, when you look at that kind of material that we're working with, once something starts deteriorating, we've learned it can be very, very difficult to find the replacements for it," she said.