by Dave Skitt, Observatory Chairperson
After two+ years of planning, coordination and an unnerving NJDEP permitting process, the columns that allow for open sky observation from within the walls of AAAP’s Simpson Observatory have finally been replaced. The original cinder-block columns built in the summer of 1978 to support the roll-off roof had become deeply cracked from water damage. Internal video inspection of the blocks revealed total replacement was sorely needed.
CWC Masonry, LLC began replacement work on August 3, 2022. I was present to observe and answer questions as they arose. Before work began, CWC documented the current “levelness” of the steel I-beams so their positions could be monitored. CWC then installed steel column jacks to support the I-beams for the duration of the project. By the end of the day, two of the four columns had been removed and replaced.
The second pair of columns were replaced on August 5. The demolition and reconstruction process was the same for each column. The old cinders blocks were saw cut down the middle and knocked out with a demolition hammer-drill. The original concrete footers were then carefully cleaned and inspected. Fortunately, the footers were still in excellent condition.
Next, the first concrete column block was mortared in place after careful alignment below the I-beam structure. Four holes were then drilled into the footers to accept ¾-inch rebar that would run through the center of the blocks. After several blocks were laid, cement was poured into the central opening around the rebar. Two courses of overlapping rebar were used to span the height of the columns.
At the top, the final block was shimmed into place to meet the underside of the steel I-beam. Mortar was then packed into the gap between the blocks. Stainless steel J-bolts were inserted into pre-existing bolt holes in the I-beams and their lengths adjusted to overlap the rebar. Cement was then poured in to fill the block. The new columns were finished off with a layer of Fiberglas mesh mortared in place. Pre-colored white stucco was then troweled onto the outer surface. The job was completed on August 6.
Many thanks to CWC Masonry, LLC and to all of those inside and outside of AAAP working behind the scenes to get this ball rolling and finished after such a long process. I am confident that these new columns will allow AAAP to roll the roof back and view the heavens for many more years to come!
Here are some photos taken throughout the project. Photo credits: Dave Skitt, John Church, Tom Swords and CWC Masonry.