New life for lighthouse

"Oswego city officials plan to renovate the West Pierhead Lighthouse in an effort to attract tourism.

"The Office of Community Development has obtained a $225,000 grant from New York’s Canal Corporation for restoration projects pertaining to the Oswego Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, director Mary Vanouse said.

"However, deciding what to do with the money has been difficult. Vanouse said her office has hired C&S Companies, an engineering firm with an office in Syracuse, to do a preliminary study of the lighthouse and recommend how the grant money should be spent. Their first estimate was to spend $260,000 on removing lead paints from the lighthouse as well as repainting the entire structure. Vanouse called that plan "simply unacceptable." She sent the firm "back to the drawing board," to draft a new estimate. Vanouse prefers a spending plan that allows volunteers to do much of the work on the beacon of the lighthouse.

"Ted Panayotoff, chair of the office’s lighthouse committee, agrees that funding will be an issue.

""Money is nowhere near enough to completely restore the lighthouse," said Panayotoff, who is also affiliated with the H. Lee White Marine Museum. "But it’s a start."

"However, Panayotoff warned many portions of work will have to be done by contractors, not just volunteers. Before moving to Oswego last year, Panayotoff spent 10 years restoring the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse in Rockland, Maine.

"Another question is what to do with the lighthouse after it is renovated, and what renovations to make.

""We still have to define our long-term goals," Panayotoff said. "There are some lighthouses that have been made completely habitable; I’m not sure we want to do something of that extent. We may just want to get it restored, have some historical material available and be able to accommodate tours."

"This means tourists would be unable to have overnight stays in the lighthouse. However, C&S’s first report would take renovations farther. According to the report, the goal of the project would be to open the lighthouse for periodic tours. Long term plans might include operating the lighthouse as a historical lodging for overnight guests, the report said.

"Accessing the lighthouse will be difficult for tourists looking to visit the structure. It is connected to shore by break wall extending half a mile into Lake Ontario. The break wall faces its own challenges, as erosion and age has caused it to become unsafe. City officials discourage people from walking on it.

""You can get out there in a boat now, but its pretty challenging," Panayotoff said.

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"The lighthouse’s interior also presents some safety concerns.

""The paint on the interior steel stairs has failed. The stairs also lack a continuous hand rail, which causes a safety hazard. The lighthouse has no operating HVAC, electrical or plumbing systems," the report said. "The lighthouse has no fire alarm or fire protection system. A fire alarm system will need to be installed to support tours throughout the building, and a sprinkler system will be required to support use for lodging."

"The first phase of any work on the structure will include ridding the site of hazardous asbestos and rough, peeling paints. Bird droppings are another source of problems. The beacon is not currently watertight and has been open to the elements, as well as birds, which have added to its decreased state.

""The lighthouse structure is in good shape," the report said. "The lack of significant cracks in the concrete walls and slabs, deformation of steel members, or buckling in the exterior steel panels indicates the structural systems remain sound. However, the presence of widespread surface corrosion on the exterior steel panels, and areas of corrosion on the interior steel members indicate water is infiltrating into the lighthouse. Left unchecked, the water infiltration will cause compounding damage to the lighthouse building systems and lead to structural damage."

"The city acquired the lighthouse in May 2009. Before that, the Coast Guard operated it. The Coast Guard still maintains lights at the site and is unsure of how any work at the lighthouse would affect operations there, said Charles Rowe, a public information officer for the Coast Guard. The lighthouse was built in 1934 by the Army Corp of Engineers.

"According to the Coast Guard, there are around 80 lighthouses in New York, and hundreds more scattered along the East Coast. Only 35 are what the Coast Guard deems "operational," meaning they maintain navigational lights at the site.

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