A significant restoration of the Cape Neddick Light Station and lighthouse keeper’s cottage is expected to begin later on this fall with work to continue periodically for the next two to three years.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Michael Sullivan said the town is interviewing contractors for the work, which was initially slated to begin over the summer and then immediately after Labor Day. Sullivan said his focus had shifted in recent months to the York Beach Bathhouse project, but now the Nubble work is at the top of his priority list.
The work to be done is extensive, as the town seeks to ensure its No. 1 tourist attraction is in tiptop shape. And because the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, particular attention has to be paid to their historic nature. All work had to be approved in advance, for instance, by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
The blueprint for the work is a report by the Groundroot Preservation Group of York, which was hired in 2016 to conduct a thorough exterior condition assessment of the buildings. In general, the report concluded, the bones of the buildings are in good shape but are showing wear due to the punishing marine conditions.
For instance, the report indicates widespread issues of “accelerated failure of paint and corrosion of fastening hardware” throughout the six structures on the island, due to the ocean environment. It also noted rotted moldings and details, “paint failure” from using the wrong type of paint in the past and corrosion to the metal exterior of the light tower. Sullivan said the roof also needs to be repaired, and the masonry in the basement of the house and the generator building also needs attention.
In addition, the railing at the top of the light tower needs attention. He said parts of it need to be replaced due to rust. “But based on historic preservation practices, you don’t want to replace the whole rail. You fix what is wrong but you keep it historic as much as possible.”
Voters in May 2016 approved $75,000 for initial work, to be funded entirely from the proceeds of the Sohier Park Visitors Center. Sullivan said additional funds will be included in next year’s budget as work proceeds, again without taxpayer impact.
All of the work “would drive a regular contractor crazy. This is very different from regular carpentry work.” As such, only companies equipped to undertake restoration work submitted applications. Sullivan said three contractors applied: JB Leslie Company of South Berwick; Cenaxo of Willington, Connecticut, and the Aulson Company of Methuen, Massachusetts.
He is in the process of interviewing the three now, and expects to come back before the Board of Selectmen for contract approval later this month. He expects the contractor to look at the report and prioritize the work that needs to be done — mindful of the fact that it’s all exterior work so mid-winter work is impractical. Summer is obviously prime work season, but it’s also prime visitor season. “Do we want to do things during the tourism season? I don’t know.
“What we’re looking for, really, is a partner, a contractor the town can develop a relationship with,” he said. “We want to be careful who we select. Because of where it’s located and the public piece of it, a lot is going to go into this.”