p r e s e r v e . o l y m p i a

the situation

In risks on September 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm

The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia is the current custodian of the Olympia.

Due to a shift in the museum’s mission and the continued expense of maintaining the vessel, in 2010, The Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) announced that it was seeking a transfer of ownership of the Olympia to a qualified non-profit organization. Since assuming stewardship of the ship in 2000, ISM has spent $5.5 million on preservation and operating the ship as a floating museum. While the publicly accessible areas of the ship appear to be in good order and adequate monitoring systems have been installed, less accessible areas show signs of considerable damage and wear.

Tough economic times have meant that funding has not been available to undertake more substantial restoration projects that would considerably benefit the long term preservation of the vessel. Olympia has not been dry-docked in the past 54 years. Historically, a ship of this type would be dry-docked for maintenance every 3 to 5 years, though current US Navy practice can be as much as 12 years depending upon the coating used to protect the hull. Consequently, damage on the Olympia is particularly critical at the waterline where the continued action of the water and deferred hull maintenance have resulted in numerous leaks in the vessel. Much of the steel hull plating has worn down to less than 1/8th inch in thickness.  Previous, poorly considered, restoration projects also need to be reversed. Foremost amongst them is restoration of the ship’s original pine decking. Previous to the ISM’s stewardship, the aging deck was covered with concrete in an effort to prevent rainwater from entered the ship. Deck mounted equipment is now solidly encased in that concrete and cannot be removed without considerable risk. In addition, the weight of the concrete has added considerable burden to the structure of the entire ship. The top-heavy condition of the vessel will also make towing dangerous.

Once the Olympia’s condition is stabilized, considerable work needs to be undertaken to make her safe for the public. Foremost among these is abatement of asbestus containing materials and lead based paints. The lower levels of the vessel exhibit considerable signs of scaling (rust) and measures–mostly consisting of installing adequate ventilation systems–need to be undertaken to reduce this natural process. Many exterior surfaces need to be cleaned and painted. Paint is an essential protective measure on vessels, not just a way to make them look nicer.

Over the years, Olympia has lost some of her most important features. The fore and aft turrets and guns, for example, are simple welded representations of the originals which were removed circa 1919. Her propellers were removed decades ago, her port engine is missing and her rudder is jammed to the right and cannot be straightened out in her current situation. The river around her has silted up and at low tide she actually sits in the mud of river bottom. This has made detailed inspection of her bottom an impossibility.

ISM has funded a number of feasibility studies on restoring and operating the Olympia. These reports are available from the ISM website (http://www.phillyseaport.org/olympia_transfer/) and are essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the fate of the Olympia.

If the hull deterioration at the waterline continues at the current rate, the Navy estimates that the Olympia will remain afloat only for another two to three years. To repair the hull, the ship needs to be towed to dry dock and removed from the water, at least temporarily. Furthermore, before the ship is towed anywhere, the river channel needs to be dredged deep enough to allow passage. The Olympia will be in considerable danger of taking water during the tow. Consequently, it is important that the dry dock be as close as possible to the Olympia’s current location. Estimates for this essential work range from 3 to 10 million dollars–with the higher value being more realistic. After the hull is repaired, then the ship could be towed to a new location. A total preservation and restoration effort is expected to cost approximately $20 million.

http://www.preserveolympia.wordpress.com

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