Historic building requires 18,000 individual repairs
Perched on scaffolding 25 metres above the Legislature plaza, Chris Ambrozic (Business Administration – Management ’90) reaches along the surface of the 106-year-old sandstone building to touch a corner piece so small it would be barely visible to a viewer on the ground below.
“I’m most proud of that one,” he says of the stone, a “drip edge” on top of the southwest corner of Alberta’s Legislature building. “It’s the most technical piece – it’s very complex.”
As its name suggests, it forms the edge over which more than a century of rain and snow has accumulated, melted and dripped and, well, it shows. The surface of the stone is pockmarked and worn, even crumbling in spots.
Workers from Ambrozic’s company, Scorpio Masonry, carefully salvaged, measured and cut a replacement for that piece. It’s just one of the 18,000 individual repairs the 20-person crew is carrying out on the building as part of a two-and-a-half-year, $20-million project.
“That intervention will last another 100 years,” Ambrozic says of the repair.
While historic restoration isn’t the only work Scorpio does, it’s a specialty and favourite for Ambrozic. The business grad had also trained as a mason before taking over Scorpio in 2003 from his father, who founded it after escaping from Yugoslavia in 1960.
The company has previously worked on the Federal Building adjacent to the Legislature, the Bowker Building, the Kelly-Ramsey Building and the MacLaren Apartments on 124th Street.
The Legislature is “the crown jewel” of Alberta’s historic buildings, says Ambrozic. “It’s an honour to work on it, and we take the work seriously. We’re trying to bring it back to its old, glorious self.” Here’s a look at how they’re doing it.
Sandstone, the most plentiful and accessible material at the time the Legislature was built, is porous and absorbent, Ambrozic explains. The passage of time and many freeze-thaw cycles, along with some patchwork repairs, have ravaged much of the building’s exterior.
Now, a five-storey maze of scaffolding covers the southwest portion of the building, wrapped in hoarding and heated to ensure the mortar and epoxy used in the repairs set properly.
Repairing and restoring the stone is highly specialized work. Ambrozic’s company had to prequalify even to bid on the project, and was the only Alberta company that made the cut to do so.
Ambrozic’s company had to prequalify even to bid on the project.
“The Alberta Legislature is the flagship building in the Government of Alberta’s entire infrastructure portfolio and an important historic resource,” said Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda.
“As the temple of our democracy, it has served the people of Alberta well since 1912. With the skilled work of Chris and his team we are safeguarding the Legislature for the next 100 years.”
Masonry restoration expert Rob Pacholok from Building Science Engineering spent weeks surveying the building on a manlift to identify the 18,000 repairs, carefully documented on drawings supplied to Scorpio, then validated by Ambrozic’s team once the scaffolding was in place.
Beneath the metal and plastic shroud, the exterior of the building is dotted with red tags marking each individual repair: removing and replacing crumbled grout here, carefully repairing a broken stone there.
Crews remove some stones and temporarily replace them with shims while a new stone is cut. Hundreds of new balusters will replace the originals that have broken or crumbled.
Crews have had to cut rough boulders from an old quarry in southern Alberta.
Sourcing the stone has been difficult because there are no longer any commercial sandstone quarries operating in Alberta, says Ambrozic. For pieces too big to salvage from the Legislature’s existing, damaged stone, Scorpio’s crews have had to cut rough boulders from an old quarry in southern Alberta and cut them into manageable chunks.
Technology has helped with replacing the larger pieces; Scorpio imported a special CNC lathe from Italy that can be programmed to produce identical, symmetrical balusters, for example. But many of the smaller bits must be cut and carved by hand in a small, heated shed on site.
These patchwork replacement pieces are what masons call a “Dutchman”: a stone cut and fitted to replace part of a weathered or broken stone, usually with the help of an embedded metal rod and epoxy.
Ambrozic likens historic renovation work to dentistry, with its emphasis on precision and conservation. “It’s like taking a chunk of tooth out, grinding it, then gluing a new piece of tooth back on the old tooth,” he says. “Instead of replacing everything, you want to salvage as much as you can.
Ambrozic likens historic renovation work to dentistry.
“We try to go after that kind of work,” he adds. “It’s the challenge, the high variability in it. No job is the same, so it’s very engaging to the team; they love doing it. The crew is happy to come to work every day because it’s such a unique project.”