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Back on track: Union Terminal renovation and restoration

Reconstruction Awards

Back on track: Union Terminal renovation and restoration

Painstaking care went into restoring Cincinnati’s train terminal/museum complex.

By John Caulfield, Senior Editor | November 15, 2019
Union Terminal exterior

The restoration of Union Terminal and the massive fountain at its entrance took 2½ years. The rotunda spans 180 feet. Eight mosaic and 22 painted murals were restored. Photo: Brad Feinknopf.

After Cincinnati’s Union Terminal was completed, in 1933, it was deemed one of America’s most important Art Deco buildings. And certainly one of the more imposing. The rotunda alone spans 180 feet, making it the world’s second-largest half-dome (after the Sydney Opera House). Since the late 1990s, the terminal has been home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, a complex of six organizations that include a children’s museum and one devoted to natural history and science.

But Union Terminal had fallen on hard times. Its extensive renovation took 2½ years and over 1.1 million manhours to complete. To understand the terminal’s existing conditions, the reconstruction team conducted a 3D point cloud scan that generated 4.3 billion data points.

The project focused on restoring the integrity of the terminal’s structure and providing new mechanical systems. More than 478,000 pounds of ductwork were installed. A cooling tower ties into 23 new air handlers and three new centrifugal chillers. Five boilers were replaced.

Also replaced were eight structural steel beams in the ceiling of the children’s museum that had endured decades of water damage. Each beam weighed eight tons and was 40 feet long and 36 inches in height.


Inside Union Terminal with American flagPhoto: ©Cincinnati Museum Center. 


The terminal’s restoration also entailed:

• Removing and reassembling a massive fountain at the front of the building so that a waterproofing membrane could be installed.

• Applying 5,200 lbs of SonaKrete, an acoustical finish, to the rotunda’s interior wall before it was repainted.

• Replacing, restoring, or thoroughly cleaning 1,060 doors and 1,270 windows, as well as eight mosaic murals and 22 painted murals in the rotunda and exhibit wing.

Brick and stone were removed from the terminal’s façade and replaced once a watertight barrier was installed. A critical component of the project was the detailed coordination of opening up small sections to ensure a temporary weatherproofed system was in place without exposing the interior work.



BUILDING TEAM Turner Construction (submitting firm, GC) Cincinnati Museum Center (owner) GBBN Architects (design architect) THP Limited (SE) The Kleingers Group (CE) Arup (MEP) Heapy Engineering (engineering consultant) John G. Waite Associates Architects (historic preservation contractor) DETAILS 500,000 sf Total cost $172.7 million Construction time July 2016 to November 2018 Delivery method CM at risk

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