Newport City Hall may have been closed for the last four months, but not its cupola.
At a staggering 140 feet up, Paul Bastiaanse, company president of Valley Restoration of Torrington, Connecticut, walks over the relative comfort of scaffolding to work on it. At that dizzying height, he hopes to completely rebuild the cupola atop Newport’s government building by about Labor Day, restoring the wood, copper, trim, gold leaf and other materials to their original glory.
Bastiaanse said it’s a challenge when the wind kicks up as he climbs 60 feet to the rubber roof, and then another 80 to the top of the weather vane. But it’s nothing compared to the old days when he and his brother, Mark, learned from their dad the old-fashioned way.
“When we did this work with my father, it was block and tackle work [hanging on ropes and hoisting heavy objects with a pulley],” he said. “When we get to scaffolding, it’s like a dream. You almost don’t know you’re up there.”
Valley Restoration was started by Bastiaanse’s father in the 1960s. His sons, Paul and Mark, took over the company in 2013 after their father’s passing. The company specializes in high altitude steeplejack work and plaster restoration.
Bastiaanse bid for the job after learning of the proposed Newport project on a website that municipalities use to get competitive bids for capital repairs from companies throughout New England. Bastiaanse’s crew arrived on June 15. Newport is a fortuitous 2-for-1 opportunity for the company. They are also restoring the historic plaster at the Newport Fire Station.
“We have worked with historic plaster before. We were able to save it, rather than demo it,” he said. “This will be all there, as it was before.”
The crew are in their fourth week on the cupola job because of an unexpected find and an altered timetable.
“There is a little bit more rot than we expected,” he said. “Like anything rotted in certain areas, it’s a little bit worse than we thought, but nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Besides replacing the rotted wood and the millwork, they will replace the copper roof on the cupola and the wooden balusters, repair or completely replace the eight columns, restore the weather vane and paint with delicate gold leaf for what Bastiaanse calls “a 100 percent complete” restoration.
“Then we apply a good 20-year coating of paint,” he said. “You don’t want a five-year paint job.,”
But his crew must wait on that.
“The copper guys have to get ahead of us. We are in a spot where the mill work shop in Connecticut has to get ahead of us as well,” he said. “I have a small crew now in place there, and a crew here as well scraping and painting the trim.”