Thursday, January 16, 2014

That sinking feeling isn't all in your head

Five years ago the city completed a very expensive repair project on City Hall, the third tallest building in the United States when it was built, and a listee on the National Register of Historic Places.

Now it seems more work is needed. The building is sinking.

You could insert some witticism about the weight of all the budget pork and political hot air in the building driving it into the ground, but the fact is the building is built on what are essentially stilts.

One hundred and nineteen year old stilts.

Much of the city of Milwaukee is constructed the same way, as are many of the old buildings in river, lake or ocean side towns. Massive wooden pilings were driven deep into the swampy land near the river. The pilings were covered with thick planks, which in turn support a granite foundation. As long as the wood remains completely submerged, rot is kept indefinitely at bay.

"Indefinitely" does not equal "forever".

Knowing what I do now about my own interests, I think I would have been better suited as a structural engineer than an accountant. Given I work for a university with a thriving engineering department, it might not be too late. A peek at the course listing reveals a lot of math - rather expected - and a lot of physics. Not shown, however, are any English/writing courses. That explains quite a bit about the engineers I know...

The report on the sinking issue is due in April. I'm rather looking forward to it - how do you jack up an entire building? By the way, the corner that is sinking is underneath the smaller of the towers on the building.

We'll see.

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