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From one end to the other

Press Shop | 06.20.2019

This is the pressure-washing job that would never end. At the end of April,  Josh Vance and Brad Staley cranked up the Secretary of State’s hot-water pressure washer, climbed into the basket of a hydraulic lift that raised them 70 feet into the air, and started cleaning the state capitol.

Cleaning the State CapitolThis is not your weekend-warrior driveway-washing project. By the time they finished Phase 1, they will have washed enough Indiana limestone to cover the entire 100 yards at War Memorial and about a third of the gridiron at Razorback Stadium. In real-estate terms, that’s about an acre and a half.

Josh, who has worked for the state of Arkansas for seven years, and Brad, an eleven-year employee, are employed in the Capitol Facilities Division of the Secretary of State’s office. This is the division that maintains the capitol and the grounds, including the 51 varieties of roses.

The cleaning of the capitol was Number 1 on the to-do list of John Thurston, who is in the first months of his first term as Secretary of State. This is the first head-to-toe cleaning of the capitol in more than a decade.

“Our facilities team works day and night keeping the capitol clean, operating efficiently, and ensuring visitors and workers are safe,” he said. “You won’t find a better team. They landscape the grounds, clean the bathrooms, and fix the infrastructure. This building is just under 300,000 square feet, and they keep it immaculate.”Cleaning the State Capitol

The care of the six brass doors at the top of the capitol stairs also falls to Capitol Facilities. Richard Adcock, nearly twenty-one years with the Secretary of State, spends at least part of every work day shining the doors, which were manufactured in 1910. Construction of the capitol commenced in 1899 and wrapped up in 1915. Impatient legislators convened in the capitol in 1911.

As Richard is well-suited for keeping the doors bright, so Josh and Brad were the obvious picks (they don’t mind heights) to wash the outside of the entire state capitol, which for more than a century has been the workplace for more than forty governors, hundreds of legislators, thousands of staff, and the destination for millions of tourist from all over the world.

Josh and Brad have done it the “easy” way with an oscillating tip that amplifies the force and cuts a 10-inch or so swath, which is wider than the old-fashion standard-issue tips that cut the dirt in two- to three-inch strips. It’s the difference between cleaning your teeth with a toothpick and an electric toothbrush.

Josh and Brad started washing on April 29 on the south side of the capitol – that would be the I-630 end – and moved counterclockwise to the east, north, and west side.

In the decade since the last cleaning, bands of black lichen had infested the limestone. But they couldn’t just blast if off as if it were a dirt-dauber nest on the side of a brick house. Limestone is not granite, and it demands a delicate touch.

State Capitol Dome“Less is more, in this situation,” says Brent Stamp, the Secretary of State’s director of capitol facilities and overseer of pressure-washing operations. “We use the gentlest means possible.”

They studied up on the best practices, and guided by their research, Josh and Brad limited the pressure of the water to 1,800 pounds per square inch. For perspective, many weekend warriors wash their homes and sidewalks with pressure up to 4,000 pounds per inch. The SOS machine can pump out the water at 3,500 pounds per square inch.

To kill and clean the lichen, they set the temperature of the water at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (The machine can heat water to 250 degrees.) When they’re not cleaning lichen, they switch to cold water. The duo utilizes a sophisticated communications system to alert their man on the ground that it’s time to turn off the heat. “We honk the horn, and Randy turns the temperature down.” That would be Randy Corn, who has been with the SOS for 10 years.

Before they launched full speed into the project, Josh and Brad tested and fine-tuned their method on an inconspicuous spot, but even that’s not foolproof, because not every panel of limestone is equal. Some panels are softer than others; some were installed differently. In some places, the limestone flakes off like the top of a canned biscuit. They are cleaning the mortar joints, which “look surprisingly good,” Brent says.

“We are documenting areas that need more attention,” Brent says.Workers cleaning the capitol building

The weather of Spring 2019 has kept them on their toes, between the rainstorms and the heat. Sunburn, however, wasn’t a big concern. “We’re covered head to toe,” Josh says, “in rain gear and dirt-dauber mud.”

(In the photo at right, a member of Governor Hutchinson's communications team took this photo of the pressure washers from inside a second-floor window. In the bottom photo, the Secretary of State's pressure-washing crew cleans the limestone up high while Richard Adcock polishes the bronze doors down low, which he does every day of the week.)

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