Friday, March 31, 2023

Despite federal shutdown and military location, lighthouse makeover remains on track

An artist's rendering and aerial view of the Cape Henry Lighthouse after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)
An artist’s rendering and aerial view of the Cape Henry Lighthouse after restoration work (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The recent partial government shutdown was unable to mar the restoration schedule of the Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Despite being surrounded by Fort Story — a military base — with renovations funded mainly by federal grants, the lighthouse restoration is still on schedule, said Thomas Nicholas, a facilities manager for the city’s public works department.

Federal funds were already secured before the shutdown began, and the Navy, which operates Fort Story, was unaffected by the shutdown.

The lighthouse is privately owned and operated by Preservation Virginia. The City of Virginia Beach, along with designers Clark Nexsen and construction contractors Conquest USA, are implementing the project.

The estimated total project cost is $1,144,230, according to Preservation’s website. The funding is a mix of federal grants and matching funds from Preservation and the city.

Site Coordinator Jessica Kinder said the exposed foundation of the lighthouse, which was constructed in 1792, shows signs of significant wear and erosion. People have vandalized the foundation, carving names and initials into the soft stone surface.

“The foundation is about 20 feet deep and about half of it is exposed due to erosion of the sand,” Kinder said. “The dune is unstable. There are a lot of exposed rocks and bricks.”

Nicholas said “there’s no work ongoing at the site, as the contractor is awaiting delivery of granite for the granite seat wall and granite steps” that will lead up to the lighthouse.

“Once the granite arrives and is installed, the remaining work includes the placement of the concrete pavers, the handrails on the new stairs and installation of new signage,” Nicholas said.

The City of Virginia Beach Public Works Department is handling the restoration because federal grants used for the project require the local government to manage the project.

The scheduled completion date of substantial work is April 1, Nicholas said, which is when the city turns the lighthouse back over to Preservation.

“How quickly they (Preservation Virginia) choose to re-open the lighthouse to the public is up to them,” Nicholas said.

Jennifer Hurst-Wender is the director of museum operations and education for Preservation. She said the re-opening date of the lighthouse is still fluid, but that it should be opened again by May 1.

The lighthouse site as a whole is, however, open to the public now.

“You can visit the site, take a walking tour, and shop in the gift shop now,” Hurst-Wender said. “You just can’t go up to the dune and tower.”

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