READING, Pa. – Reading City Council has learned that it will cost about $7.55 million to repair, restore, and stabilize the stone and concrete retaining walls and concrete walkways at the Pagoda.
Meeting as the strategic planning committee on Monday night, council heard a presentation from Jim Boisseau, a structural engineer and tech manager at JMT Engineering, Allentown.
JMT was tasked by the city to conduct a structural and geotechnical analysis on the existing Pagoda walls and stairs at the 10-acre site on top of Mount Penn.
Boisseau said that although the Pagoda was constructed in 1908, a majority of the five different sections of retaining walls were built in 1935 as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Program during the height of the Great Depression.
“We went through and looked at all the walls around the site, as well as the terraces, the stairs and walkways,” Boisseau said. “These areas and systems are in various degrees of damage, ranging from moderate to severe.”
Boisseau said the plan would include replacing the stone steps, which he said are in critical condition. In addition, he said those existing steps are in violation of International Building Codes.
Railings would also have to be replaced with code compliant structures to provide the necessary safety for visitors to the site.
If the project is placed for bid this fall, Boisseau said it would be completed in the summer of 2025.
In April, council learned that the city is facing a $2.87 million price tag to make needed repairs to the actual Pagoda building.
The historic structure has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic. That project is being looked at by engineers who are completing structural designs prior to it being placed for bid.
“Despite the wall issues, we did not see any structural damage or notice any structural damage on the building itself,” Boisseau said. “The building is independently anchored from the walls themselves, so there are two mutually exclusive structural systems.”
City finance director Jamar Kelly said the city will need to come up with $10 million for the two projects.
“So now that we know it’s going to cost $10 million, the city does not have $10 million to devote to this,” Kelly said. “We’re going to need a community funding project.”
Council President Donna Reed said the city will need partners to take on the two projects.
“We should have partners because it is something that is shared by the whole community, which loves the Pagoda,” Reed said.
Reed said the city is often criticized by the entire Berks County community for not taking care of the Pagoda.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed with the need for public support.
“The cost is not unexpected when you have a 115-year-old building that’s been bolted to the side of the mountain,” Goodman-Hinnershitz said. “We are going to need to reach out to whatever partners, both private and other governmental entities. The city has its capacity but it, but it’s limited for the scope of this project. Everyone needs to be able to come to the plate if this building is going to be repaired the way that it needs to be and sustained for the next 100 years.”