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MailTribune.com
  • Central Point firm to help with restoration of U.S. Capitol dome

    F.D. Thomas of Central Point will work on welding and assembling structure's pieces
  • For the first time in more than 50 years, the U.S. Capitol dome will be restored — with major help from F.D. Thomas, a firm with deep Medford roots.
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  • For the first time in more than 50 years, the U.S. Capitol dome will be restored — with major help from F.D. Thomas, a firm with deep Medford roots.
    "I just started in 1979 here (residential) painting," said Dan Thomas, president of the company, which now performs large-scale restoration work, including bridges and airports, in major metropolitan areas throughout the country.
    F.D. Thomas has engineering offices in Tacoma, Wash., and Sacramento, Calif., but its corporate office, executives and payroll staff remain in Central Point.
    Thomas said it'll take about two years to complete the capitol dome's restoration, a painstaking process that was last undertaken in 1959-60.
    "That whole structure is cast iron," Thomas said of the 150-year-old dome.
    The Capitol dome was designed by Thomas U. Walter and constructed from 1855-1866 at a cost of $1.05 million.
    The dome is made of 8.9 million pounds of ironwork bolted together, one of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of American architecture.
    But now it is sorely in need of repair, with more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies, according to the Architect of the Capitol, the government office overseeing the $60 million project.
    Meeting the office's strict standards was a challenge just in securing the job alone.
    "They're pretty hard to work for," Thomas said of the rigorous application process.
    During the bidding process, the firm had to demonstrate financial solvency and the technical experience and proficiency to perform the work needed.
    Once the scaffolding is placed, the first phase will involve removing paint, Thomas said. Then comes exterior stitching and recasting of problem areas of the Capitol dome.
    Thomas explained that the casting will be done by a separate firm, but the stitching, a process of welding and assembling the cast pieces, will be performed by his company.
    "The stitching will be done on site," Thomas said. He said the firm will also remove and replace all caulking on the building.
    Following exterior renovations, the next phase of work for the firm will be refurbishing the interior attic space.
    The last phase will be the restoration of the interior rotunda. Protective coverings will be placed on art and statuary in the interior, and a protective canopy will be installed.
    "We've got to strip all the lead," he said.
    Restoration techniques have changed since the building was last overhauled more than a half century ago.
    "The only other time it was repainted was 1959 and '60," he said.
    Most significantly, Thomas cited high standards for air quality as a factor that wasn't a consideration during the dome's last overhaul.
    "Basically we can't make any dust," he said.
    The firm's experience with metal structures and large-scale lead paint abatement, particularly in the restoration of bridges, helped the firm secure the contract.
    "We do a lot of lead paint removal," Thomas said.
    Although Thomas was surprised a firm on the East Coast wasn't selected, he said that not many firms have experience in large-scale restoration of metal structures.
    "We just have that kind of experience," he said.
    Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.
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