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Revitalizing History: Ozer Engineering's Innovative Timber Solutions for Somerville's Museum

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

At OZER Engineering, we are excited to collaborate with Architect Andy Kitsinger, Wagner Construction, and the Town of Somerville on the restoration of a historical landmark located at 16750 CR 64 in Somerville, Tennessee. This pre-civil war brick building with wood floors that anchors the town square was a well-detailed major structure for its time. Over the years it has had a rich history of many uses including a hotel, stores, and doctor's offices. The Town of Somerville recently purchased the building with plans to convert it into a museum. As they began to plan their vision for the space, they noticed cracks and settlements. So, they called OZER, smart move! Our assessment found the interior brick to be second class brick with no weather grade, commonly used on interiors in the pre-industrial south, known locally as "salmon brick" due to it's orange color. This brick breaks down when wetted for long periods. All around window and vent openings, and adjacent to sidewalks this brick is rapidly breaking down and can no longer support the weight of the building. Collapse of the building could be imminent, especially if subject to a lateral loading event, such as even a small earthquake. A common solution is to tear the building down. But what to do with a historic building that's important to the community? Join us on our journey as we bring new life to this treasured building.

Walters Grocery Store

Preserving History with Innovative Timber Solutions: We needed to come up with a repair solution that could keep the renovation within the town's budget. A big part of our ability to create an affordable design is utilizing a timber frame. Usually, this type of work is done in steel. However, not only does steel give an inauthentic look and feel to historic restoration, but also the cost is significantly higher. With our expertise in developing cost-effective timber solutions, we designed a complete internal timber frame, a new skeleton, to carry the weight of the floors and roof, along with new CMU shearwalls that will resist wind and seismic load.

Retaining the Beautiful Historic Façade: We recognize the importance of preserving intricate brick facades. Luckily the exterior wythe that people see is made of a different, first-class well-burnt brick that has held up well and been maintained over time. Through careful planning and anchoring, the internal timber frame will separate the load-bearing responsibilities from the façade, so it will remain in place, but only as a non-structural façade and envelope. By sealing the façade and repairing the interior brick, and protecting it from moisture, the decomposition of the interior brick can be slowed so that this exterior skin can survive for several more generations.

Updates and Progress: Due to the extreme fragility of the badly deteriorated exterior brick walls, including basement brick retaining walls, we have to be very careful not to destabilize the structure during the installation of the new structural elements. Each step of construction has to be carefully planned to allow partial demolition and excavations without creating instability.

And all this has to be done on a tight budget foregoing the normal approach of steel framing, instead using timber and conventional wood framing, carefully tying together the existing elements, and bracing them all back to the new CMU shearwalls. We carefully evaluate the existing wood and brick materials and produce a custom repair procedure. Then using primarily off-the-shelf, low-cost clips, screws, straps, and anchors to stitch the new and existing wood and masonry elements together. We present these design details on a clear set of drawings that wood framers and masonry repair technicians are able to understand and implement.

Amazingly we are moving forward with this full structural renovation. It is very rare in this type of building and one in this condition. We are able to accomplish this because we have an experienced team at Ozer working together with Andy Kitsinger and Wagner Construction to find the most economical way to implement and guide the project through.

In July, we will post updates on construction progress.

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