Repairs continue at MLK Memorial

Phase I to test strategy for replacing tiles is under way
Thursday, December 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was constructed near the MKT Trail 11 years ago, it cost about $130,000. It is expected to cost more than half that amount to fix the damages to the memorial.

Over the past eight months, improvements have been made toward restoring the memorial, located at the entrance to the MKT Trail off Stadium Boulevard.

Completed in 1993, the memorial has suffered significant environmental damage, including unsightly runs of white calcium carbonate on its ceramic blue tiles.

In 2002, Russell-Marti Conservation Services reported to the City of Columbia that the calcium carbonate runs on the tiles were a result of inadequate water runoff. Weak mortar in the steps of the amphitheater, as well as deteriorated caulk in the joints and lack of overhang in the steps, were also cited as problems.

Russell-Marti estimated that the restoration would cost between $55,000 and $80,000.

The restoration work is being done in two stages.

Phase I, which includes the installation and observation of a test section of 255 replacement tiles on the five-step amphitheater, is now under way.

Marie Hunter, manager of the Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, said she is waiting to see if the cost will exceed the estimate. “It’s an element of not knowing the cost of Phase II until Phase I is completed,” said Hunter.

The test section covers approximately one-third of the 50-foot wide amphitheater and will be observed throughout the year to see how it reacts to various weather conditions.

“We are in the test-section phase now, and although you don’t see people working down there every day, progress is still being made at the site,” Hunter said.

The restoration of the memorial is being funded by a $98,000 Save America’s Treasures federal grant, landed in 2003 by U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. More than $83,000 was raised by the New Century Fund, a local organization that helps to raise money for the improvement of services provided by the City of Columbia.

All of the original blue tiles, which were on the façade of the steps of the amphitheater, have been stripped off.

According to Russell-Marti, the original tiles, which were made of stone, were beyond repair. Freezing temperatures and excessive water absorption caused the tiles to expand, forming micro cracks and air holes on the surface of the tiles. Tucson, Ariz., artist Barbara Grygutis manufactured new clay tiles for the test section. The design of the new tiles is similar to the original design. The new tiles are four inches tall,

half an inch shorter than the original ones. Shorter tiles will allow the granite steps of the amphitheater to be sloped, diverting water runoff from the site.

The cost to manufacture more than 1,000 new tiles will be between $5,000 and $10,000.

“Assuming every thing else goes as we hope, installing the remaining two-thirds will be relatively easy,” Hunter said. “But right now, we are essentially waiting. We didn’t want to replace everything without knowing how it would work.”

Earlier this year, a new drainage system was added, diverting water runoff from the steps. Also, the granite steps were re-cut to a more perfect circle, allowing for more consistent overhang of the treads of the steps, to prevent calcium deposits from building up. Water will wash directly down the face of the tiles.

“The big issue down there is water runoff,” Hunter said. “We’ll see how it affects the test section.”

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