Restoration of the Bell Tower at NYU


The King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU, named for the octogenarian monarch who ceded the throne to his son, features programming on Spain and the Spanish-speaking world that serves the college community as well as general audiences. It acts, notes the website (https://www.kjcc.org) as “an important cultural resource for New York City by celebrating the rich history and cultures of Spain and Latin America.”

The over 100 year-old Bell Tower constructed originally for Judson Memorial Church is a distinctive part of the Center, protruding majestically at 53 Washington Square South, topped by a stencil-like metal cross outlined in black against the sky. It is designated as a landmark building by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

In 2018, Skyline Restoration, which has a longstanding relationship with NYU, was asked to bid on a restoration of the Bell Tower. Ruslan Dimarsky, business developer and estimator, generated a cost estimate for the project resulting in a contract agreement with NYU. Wilson Cajilima was assigned as project manager for the job.

LPE Engineering, headed by R. Lynn Levine, president, joined the team. LPE Senior Architect Matt Brower, R.A., AIA, assessed the structure and developed a comprehensive plan of action.

Matt Brower explained, “LPE acted as the architects and engineers to design the components which Skyline installed.”

Skyline Restoration first removed the roof tiles and concrete decking. The existing steel frame on the roof was examined and found to be in good condition. It was repaired as needed and new precast concrete panels were manufactured to fit into the frame, constituting the underlying structural slab of the roofing system.

Wilson Cajilima said, “A total of 150 panels had to fit precisely into the frame. This required cutting each to exact measurements, then anchoring and screwing each securely in place.”

New clay terra cotta Spanish tiles to replace those discarded were approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to replicate the appearance of the original roof. The steel cross was removed, reinforced, repainted and placed in its original location making it the sole surviving element from the original roof.

A cement-based carbon-fiber mesh material known as Ruregold (formerly called Ruredil) was chosen to reinforce the masonry tower. Patrick Morrissey, C.E., president of ConSpec Associates, Inc., a vendor for the product and a longtime associate of both Skyline Restoration and LPE, said, “The product is compatible since buildings are composed of masonry, not concrete. Ruregold is ductile, not brittle, it stretches and has elasticity.”

Resin-based products do not work as well in this context.

Brower said, “The product creates a secondary shell that is aesthetic as well as structural and looks exactly like stucco.” It is also fire resistant and has OTCR (Office of Technical Certification and Research) approval.

Morrissey said, “When I knew Skyline was doing the project, I knew it would be done right.”

Any exterior and interior bricks that needed to be replaced had to meet exact size specifications to meet LPC standards. All the existing arch or radius windows were removed, and new ornamental wood-framed windows were manufactured and installed.

The front entry steps at the lower elevation of the tower were removed, reconstructed from existing materials, cleaned then re-installed.

An exterior base of the building had to match the existing greyish stone. Installing the pillars flanking the entrance and the approximately 1000 lb. headstone on top of the doors required extremely careful maneuvering using special hoists. “We had to be sure to protect every element installed,” said Cajilima.

The Bell Tower restoration was substantially completed in February 2020. Though the project posed challenges, all were successfully met and resolved.

“This beautiful landmark, a century-old building, was reconstructed and restored so that New York City residents and guests can enjoy it for the next 100 years,” said Dimarsky.

The restoration clearly illustrates the Latin motto prominent on the seal of NYU, a leading global university founded in 1831: Perstare et praestare - To persevere and to excel.

Photos: Skyline Restoration.

The views and/or opinions contained within are those of the drafter and may not reflect the views and/or opinions of Skyline Restoration Inc.

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