The Masonic Temple has structural problems and needs repairs, but overall the news from a recent structural analysis of the building is good, said Winona Park and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl. Last month, engineer consultants completed a draft version of a Historic Structures Report (HSR) that details the historic theater building's repair needs, including overloaded framework, a cracked wall, and substandard drainage.
The structural diagnosis could have been worse. "My first reaction was positive in the sense that, in the preliminary report, there doesn't appear to be any major structural deficiency," Ubl said. "There are no red-flag, major conditions that were noted in the document," he added.
Ubl shared highlights from the draft report in recent interviews. Parts of the first floor framing — the skeleton of the building — is not strong enough to meet modern building code requirements. Certain areas are overloaded and need to be bolstered with additional joists and columns. Consultants did not drill into the wall of the second and third floors to inspect those frame works, but the upper levels did show signs of settlement, a clue that sections of those floors may be overloaded, as well. Consultants recommended additional monitoring for signs of weakness, Ubl said. Parts of the roof framing are also too weak to meet modern code requirements and need to be strengthened, according to Ubl.
A crack zig zags down the blue-grey bricks of the interior side of the building's west wall. The source of the fissure appears to be a hoist anchored into the wall that was once used to haul up equipment from the alleyway below. It needs to be repaired, Ubl explained.
The building lacks a secondary drainage system from the roof. The only drains are two scuppers, which inevitably clog with debris. When that happens, backed-up water pools on the roof, adding weight to the overloaded roof frame and increasing the risk of leaks. City staff currently regularly patrol the Masonic Temple roof and clear the drains when they clog, but Ubl concurred with consultants' recommendation to add a secondary drainage system.
The building has other issues that are lower on the priority list, including needing a new air handling unit, ductwork upgrades, and other electrical upgrades, Ubl explained.
The draft report did not include cost estimates for repairs, but estimates are expected to be provided in a final report this month, according to Ubl.
Next steps for saving the temple
The HSR is a foundational piece of the plan to save the unique building and its rare collection of theatrical backdrops. Concerns about the building's structural integrity first arose after the city pursued a project to repair the Masonic Temple roof. The city sought Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) grants for that project, but SHPO turned down the application, asking the city to complete an HSR first. The roof repair project was put on hold, and city staff informed the City Council that a structural study was needed to ensure that the building could hold the weight of a new roof.
The Masonic Temple has other issues, too. Its rare collection of elaborate theatrical backdrops are in need of rehabilitation, and, just this spring consultants discovered that the rigging that suspends the drops was in grave disrepair and could fail, dropping the drops, at anytime. Crews are currently removing the drops for safe storage.
"The HSR will be a valuable tool for the city to have when it seeks grants for any rehabilitation, whether it be for the drops, the rigging, the roof, or the building, because several grants require this HSR to be completed."
Before the needed repairs can be made, the city will likely need to hire additional consultants and structural engineers to further investigate issues and to develop a detailed plan for repairs, such as where exactly joists should be installed.
"I'm not surprised that some areas will need additional study," Ubl said. "The HSR is going to give us a lot of info, but it's not the end all be all," he continued. "The HSR was never intended to give a full, comprehensive structural analysis," he added. Hiring a structural engineer would likely be part of any rehabilitation process of this sort, Ubl stated.
Previously, city officials have outlined intentions to repair the roof and masonry, replace the rigging and windows, and restore the drops. The roof repair, masonry repair, and window replacement projects were estimated to cost a total of $680,000. Replacing the rigging system was roughly estimated to cost $1.5 million to $2 million; however, theater experts have advised that if parts of the existing rigging system could be salvaged, the cost of replacing the system could be dramatically reduced. Restoration of the drops has been estimated to cost around $700,000.
The final HSR is expected to be presented to the City Council and released to the public this month.