Size: 200' Tower Type: Detention & Correctional Facility
Definition: Renovation
Date Completed: 07/23/2009


PROJECT OF THE YEAR: HISTORIC RENOVATION Owner – U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Philadelphia, PA
Architect/Designer – STV Incorporated, Douglassville, PA
Masonry Contractor – Masonry Preservation Services, Inc., Bloomsburg, PA
Masonry Supplier – Watsontown Brick Co., Watsontown, PA
Masonry Supplier – Sun Precast Co., Beaver Springs, PA
Masonry Supplier – Boston Valley Terra Cotta, Orchard Park, NY
Materials Supplier – Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services, Swedesboro, NJ
Materials Supplier – Northeast Mast Climbers, Glen Mills, PA

The United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, fondly known as "The Big House", is a maximum security Federal prison in rural Pennsylvania. Originally named the US Northeastern Penitentiary, the institution was authorized by an act of Congress on May27, 1930, less than two weeks after the Federal Bureau of Prisons was established. Designed by Alfred E. Hopkins of New York, the prison has a look in stark contrast to the grim fortress-like prisons of the past. Hopkins selected brick of Italian Renaissance design of Tuscan Italy so that on the outside the prison appears more as an academic campus.

Prominent in the composition of the campus is the central tower. The tower, which originally served as a smokestack, had severely deteriorated by the 1990's. Studies warned of "imminent risk of collapse" of brick sections above the 160 foot level. Embedded iron structural components had corroded, displacing multiple areas of masonry. Open seams allowed water to penetrate the parapets. The upper third of the tower had been wrapped in a nylon netting to prevent loose debris from falling onto the cafeteria roof below.

MPS began work on the central tower in the winter of 2006. The project required complex restoration work at a fully operational penitentiary performed 200 feet above mission-critical food service operations. In order to access the work site a platform was constructed just below the balcony level. The platform was supported by temporary beams carefully needled through the towers 20-inch thick walls. The beams had to be precisely located to clear the smokestack which rises through the center of the structure. Six decked levels of scaffolding were erected on the platform to allow full access to the deteriorated masonry.

Restoration work was performed off the decks by hand using craftsmen skilled in the construction of gothic arches and masonry techniques. The project required custom shaped brick and composite stone elements which had to match existing elements in size, color and texture. Reassembly of masonry shapes required an intimate knowledge of early construction techniques and patterns.

Through careful documentation prior to restoring the masonry, a combination of historic and modern materials and methods were used to restore the tower to its original form. Many of the restoration brick shapes and castings were obtained from the same businesses involved in the prison's construction some 75 years ago.

The practical use of modern materials such as rust inhibited and stainless steel in lieu of the original unprotected embedded steel, waterproof roof membranes and effective flashing details ensure that the tower stands strong for an additional 75 years.