City shelves plan to bring historic lighthouse lens back to Marathon

waxford@keynoter.comAugust 16, 2014 

The Sombrero Key Light lens will remain in Key West, at least for now.

KEYSINFONET

Deciding it's already spent too much money on it and not wanting to spend more, the Marathon City Council on Tuesday halted plans to bring back to the Middle Keys a historic Fresnel lens once used at the Sombrero Key Lighthouse.

Vice Mayor Chris Bull, the biggest proponent of getting the lens returned, proposed putting it on the back burner, and his colleagues on the dais agreed.

The latest possible expense was $16,700 to send conservator, or lampist, Joe Cocking of Orange Park, near Jacksonville, to Maryland to inspect the former Sand Key lens that would replace the Sombrero lens at the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum.

"The $17,000 was more expensive than I'd anticipated," Bull said. "I was shocked. As much as I'm for this project, I'm not rushing to spend this amount of money.”

The lens would have been the centerpiece of the foyer at a new city hall being planned.

Overall, a Solaria Design & Consulting study from June estimates it would cost $169,850 to bring the Sombrero lens back for display. That includes 58 paid hours "for designing in, installing and operating the historic" lens. Solaria says the lens would require special labor requirements for maintenance; energy for climate control and lighting; specific lens testing and maintenance; and liability insurance.

The inspection of the Sand Key lens in Baltimore, where it's on display, would be "at least a five-day process. There are two other people involved to accomplish the task,”
Cocking said. "Once the physical inspection is done, we have to write a report, which is another five days of work."

The city had already committed $9,250 to the study.

Cocking said the process would involve analyzing lens panels with a microscope and testing the condition of its materials. Much of the work would involve packing, unpacking, making sure no parts are bent and seeing if restoration is needed.

City Manager Mike Puto said city staff is looking to see if grants and donations can be used to help offset costs if the council decides to revisit the issue. He said the cost to bring the lens to Marathon most likely can't be lowered.

"We're not in control of all these costs," Puto said. "A lampist is a specialist. They need to send these people. We'll evaluate the expense and the process."

Built in 1857 and 1858, the Sombrero lighthouse is 156 feet tall and was first lighted on March 17, 1858, according to the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation. It was automated in 1960.

Bull said the area at the new city hall designated for the lens would most likely be used as a mini-museum for Marathon's history.

"Government has always had a responsibility to the arts, to help preserve the history of it," Bull said. "It's just a matter of how we get it."

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