Taking care of the centuries-old coquina walls at the Castillo de San Marcos is a delicate and costly process.
Even the moat wall that surrounds the fort needs special care and is undergoing a years-long rehabilitation.
But it’s one of a long line of projects needed at the Castillo and Fort Matanzas. Combined, the national monuments need more than $7 million in deferred maintenance — the cost of repairs that were delayed or weren’t performed as scheduled — at both the forts themselves and grounds and facilities, according to a document from Gordie Wilson, superintendent of both monuments.
Still, Wilson said the monuments are in good shape and the backlog comes in part from upgraded systems that account for deferred maintenance, not to mention the detailed care it takes to rehabilitate the forts.
The Spanish directed the fort’s construction in the 1600s. In the 1700s, they had Fort Matanzas built near the Matanzas Inlet to guard against attacks from the south.
Operated by the National Park Service, they are both major features of the area’s history and tourism industry.
The moat-wall project will remove and replace Portland cement, an effort that is expected to take four years and cost about $125,000 a year, said James Crutchfield, a mason and the supervisor of facility operations for both monuments.
The cement was not original but was used many years ago before officials knew it could cause coquina to crack over time, Crutchfield said. Lime mortar, the original type of material, is being used as a replacement.
Crutchfield showed where work is being done on the wall’s north side. He tapped on a part of the Portland cement, zeroing in on a weak spot, and pulled out a piece.
“That’s the feel-of-it part,” Cruthfield said. “You just have to know — when you’re tapping your chisel and your hammer, you can just feel that this piece is just too hard. It’s going to do too much damage. … That takes a lot of experience and time to get to know that.”
Maintaining coquina requires a lot of that kind of work, which is done according to federal historic preservation standards that keep restoration projects in line with original construction, Wilson said. Standards also apply to replacing coquina.
“You don’t go down to Home Depot and pick up a truckload of coquina. You go to a quarry,” he said.
Fort officials would like to conduct about $364,000 in maintenance on Fort Matanzas in the coming years and about $3.94 million of maintenance on the Castillo, according to Wilson’s report of deferred maintenance. That doesn’t include surrounding structures of the Castillo, such as the moat, ravelin (an entrance-defense structure) and the seawall.
Much of the work needed at the Castillo is removing and replacing Portland cement, but there are other needs like upgrading electrical systems and restrooms, Wilson said. Officials plan to reinforce a part of a roof at Fort Matanzas — because of hurricane damage, visits to Fort Matanzas are temporarily unavailable. But the visitor center, beaches and trails are open.
Other parts of both parks need work, too, including parking lots, grounds, administrative facilities and a maintenance shops. Even public restrooms at Fort Matanzas need about $104,000 in work, and restrooms at the Castillo need close to $8,000 in maintenance.
Wilson said he believes part of the reason for the maintenance backlog is that the system for managing repairs has only been in place for about 20 or 25 years, so officials haven’t always been aware of the needs.
Most other national parks in Florida have higher deferred maintenance totals than local national parks.
The De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton had about $432,000 in deferred maintenance as of Sept. 30, 2016, according to a National Park Service report. The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and site of Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation had about $4.25 million in deferred maintenance.
Other than the Everglades National Park at about $78 million, the park in Florida with the largest amount of deferred maintenance as of the time of the report was the Dry Tortugas National Park, which is west of Key West and includes a 19th century fort. That site needed about $58.8 million in deferred maintenance.
St. Augustine commissioners are expected to consider Monday whether to adopt a resolution that supports more federal funding for deferred maintenance at national parks.
Overall, the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas are in good condition and can maintain the level of visitors they currently get, Wilson said. Those visitors also help fund maintenance.
In 2016, the Castillo had about 854,000 visitors, and most of the entrance fee money stays at the local monuments instead of going to Washington, Wilson said.
“I think the most important thing is we are in better shape than a lot of areas are because of the entrance fees that we’re able to keep,” Wilson said. “We recognize it would be nice if we could do more. We’re very fortunate.”