Bath’s well-loved Customs House celebrated the completion of a seven month project to restore 75 window sashes. The project is an excellent and transferable demonstration how Maine’s multitude of 19th century buildings can be rehabilitated to meet 21st century expectations for function, reduced energy consumption and user comfort.
The Custom House is one of Bath’s most significant buildings for three important reasons – Architecture, Location and Heritage. Architecturally, it is a physically stunning and exceptionally well constructed building – an excellent example of 19th century values that invested quality into buildings for civic purposes. Located in the heart downtown, the City’s historic social and economic core, it is perfectly sited to be both highly visible from the river and mark the southern gateway into downtown. This building of national stature symbolized the pride and prosperity of Bath’s heyday heritage as one of the most important ports along the eastern seaboard.
The building has been maintained, however time and exposure have taken their toll, especially on the windows, which are one of the most visible yet vulnerable features. The monumentally-scaled windows which provided valuable natural light prior to the widespread use of artificial light, remain intact yet are worn with compromised functionality. The challenge was to:
- Return all historic windows to fully intact and structurally sound condition
- Ensure their function and ease of use so as to improve the comfort of tenant users
- Reduce air infiltration/energy loss plus water infiltration
Historic restoration in general and windows in particular present complex multi-faceted challenges which must address multiple, sometimes competing, considerations. Because resources are limited and expectations by various stakeholders are high, we conducted a Workshop early on to formulate a practical and community-supported strategy – within the allocated budget. The project was explored from multiple angles, such as preservation, energy, function, user comfort, maintenance and cost. In addition, the workshop modeled a successful participatory process that balanced expectations with resources and resulted in an approach transferable to other projects and other properties.