Photo by Alyse Horn
Empty Lake Elizabeth with the Soldiers Monument being worked on in the background.
By Alexandria Stryker
Allegheny Commons has been a recreational space for Pittsburgh residents for over 100 years — now, restorations and repairs are needed to maintain this important area.
According to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Lake Elizabeth is losing 62 million gallons of water every year. Due to leaks in the basin, this massive overflow is draining into the city’s sewer system. Extensive and long-term repairs are needed to maintain the 148-year-old structure.
Lake Elizabeth was created in 1868 as a focal point for a new park devised by New York design firm Mitchell and Grant. The park was meant to serve as an escape for residents who wanted to experience nature close to their city — at the time, Pittsburgh was an industrial center that consequently produced large amounts of pollution. In 1967 the local design firm Simonds and Simonds redesigned the lake area, laying improved pathways and erecting the concrete bridges that stand there today. The now 64-acre park still serves as a place of community and a sanctuary of nature away from the city for Pittsburgh residents.
According to a press release by Mayor William Peduto’s office, repair work on the lake began the week of June 12. Despite the restoration in the ‘60s, Lake Elizabeth has since fallen into disrepair including “severe cracks and structural deficiencies in the asphalt basin” due to a lack of funds. According to Brendan Schubert, manager of external affairs at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, there was no direct cause for the leak beyond the structure having “outlived its useful life” and only 25-year warranty.
The short-term fix by the Department of Public Works, or DPW, involves several steps. After draining the remaining water from the lake, workers must clear out debris, including weeds and broken glass, from the basin. A ramp must also be built to allow construction vehicles access to the empty lake’s surface. Workers must then allow the basin surface to dry completely before applying an approximately $85,000 asphalt sealant to prevent current ongoing leaks. The lake will then be refilled to its normal water level in early July.
Following the sealant application and lake refilling, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, or PWSA, will then install a special border along Lake Elizabeth’s perimeter. Gunite, a durable concrete mixture, will be used in the project — according to Schubert, gunite is “a material we use to secure sewers” and is appropriate for this project because of its strength. Gunite requires cooler temperatures for installation, so the PWSA has slated the border’s application for fall of 2016.
The current fixes being performed by the DPW and PWSA, however, will only last two to three years — a long-term renovation is required following this, and a project is currently being developed through a collaboration of city agencies. One of the eventual goals is to reduce the amount of water running in the lake, and a mechanical system designed to recirculate and aerate the water will be installed when the lake is secured, according to Schubert. However, an extensive long-term plan is still in its infancy. According to Timothy McNaulty, the communications manager in Mayor Peduto’s office, this larger renovation is “still in the fundraising and planning phase” but the short-term fix is hoped to “get through the next couple years.”
Lake Elizabeth is not the only structure on the property requiring fixes. Before being designed as a public park, the Allegheny Commons area served as a camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War — accordingly, several monuments were incorporated into the original 1868 design. Other statues were added as the years passed to honor various figures and events. However, as with the lake, the statues’ conditions have suffered with time and need repairs.
Two of these monuments — the Soldiers Monument, or the Civil War Memorial, as well as the Thomas Armstrong memorial, which honors the labor rights leader — are being restored. According to an email by Andrew Dash, the city’s assistant director of strategic planning, the Graciano Corporation will repair the statues according to an eight week timeline.
Work on the Soldiers Monument includes an Indiana Limestone restoration on the figure’s head, a patina application on this section to match the rest of the statue, and an epoxy coating application to help the statue shed water. Restoration also includes work on the eagle section of the statue. A new head will be carved out of Indiana Limestone and a patina will be applied to match the eagle’s body before attaching the head to the statue. As with the soldier’s head, an epoxy coating will be applied. Grouting and caulking work will also be performed on the back side of the eagle.
These repairs are being performed in accordance with a condition assessment performed on the statues in October of 2015. The funds for the project are drawn from the city’s war monument and art conservation fund, but the restoration of these two monuments alone costs multiple years’ worth of funds from this source.
According to a Post-Gazette article from May 30, Dash said, “The repairs to the Soldiers’ Monument and the Armstrong statue will cost $81,000, which amounts to three years of the city’s fund for monuments and art conservation.”
The restoration work on Lake Elizabeth and the monuments is extensive, and more maintenance will be needed in the future for these and other aspects of Allegheny Commons to preserve this historic and meaningful site for the current and future residents of the Northside and the rest of Pittsburgh’s residents.