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Picton Reading Room, Liverpool Central Library

Joanne Gualda | 5 December

The Picton Reading Room is a grade II listed building on William Brown street, Liverpool which now forms a significant part of the Liverpool Central Library. In 1875 Sir James Picton, laid the foundation stone of the Picton Reading Room, it was completed in 1879 and formally opened by the Mayor of Liverpool, Sir Thomas Bland Royden. The front of the building is of a semi-circular design with Corinthian columns which played a significant factor in the planning and delivery of this project from the outset.

The brief from our customer Engie was to undertake the preparation and redecoration of the Picton Reading Room’s majestic dome ceiling. Senior Contracts Manager, Bernie Smith surveyed the project to determine the scope of works, access and safety for all affected by the works. To reach the ceiling area safely, it was decided early on that the best means of access was to use mechanical access platforms, which allow close-up decorating to be undertaken and high levels to be accessed safely by our painters. Based on our experience and knowledge, it was decided to use specialist track driven spider booms in order to reach our goal. Getting the platforms into the building was a major milestone as the area directly outside the library is a pedestrian walkway and the entrance to the Picton Reading Room was eight metres above street level, only accessible from period stone steps, either side. We therefore had to erect a fixed scaffold decking platform from the edge of the outer wall at the top of the steps up to the front door of the Picton Reading Room. A twenty-tonne crane then lifted each of the three spider booms onto the platform from where they were safely manoeuvred into position, by our directly employed, trained painters, using plywood boards to protect the floor finishes as they moved along.

The Picton Reading Room was closed to the public whilst the works were undertaken, so it was critical for Bagnalls to meet the programme dates to allow the library to reopen on time. We dedicated a team of skilled painters to deliver the task under the competent supervision of Kevin Travers. Prior to the commencement of any works the Bagnalls team had the enormous task of protecting the priceless books, period shelving, carpets and ornate light fittings. This was undertaken using rolls of polyethene protective sheeting to cover every inch of the library under the dome ceiling. In addition, a special wooden shroud had to be built around the elaborate 1920’s Floor-mounted light column situated in the centre of the room, to ensure its delicate glasswork and columns were completely protected during our works.

Once protection was in place, works were started on the preparation of the substrates using hand tools along with a specialist alkali-resistant primer treatment applied to areas previously damaged by water ingress. Minor plaster repairs were also undertaken to ceiling bays using Gyproc Easi-fill 45. The whole ceiling and mouldings were then spot primed before two full coats of Akzo Nobel Dulux Trade vinyl matt emulsion in a complementary heritage colour palette was applied. To complete the finish, intricate areas of gold were also restored to the original specification.
As the high-level works neared completion our team began to clean the acoustic panelling with lint free clothes and distilled water to revitalise the delicate surface. Once all the protective sheeting had been removed a deep clean of all areas, including carpets, could be carried out. Then, to complete the project, the complex scaffold runway had to be reinstated to allow the track driven booms to be safely removed from the building and transported away from site. Throughout the course of the four week programme our team of operatives and their site supervisor worked endlessly with pride, to ensure that this project was kept on schedule, whilst maintaining high standards of quality and safety.

The Manager of the Central Library and Archive quoted “The room looks magnificent once again and the work carried out should last for many years to come. All of the planned work has been completed successfully, including repairs to the plaster at high level, full repainting of the dome and other areas using the original colour scheme, deep cleaning of the carpet, cleaning of the oculus and cleaning throughout at all levels, and re-lamping. Thanks to the Engie team and Bagnalls and thanks to Enquire staff for helping with moving stock and revision.”

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