Grade for Thorndale, Argyle stations? Make it a B+

By Patrick Barry, October 10, 2012
Morse Thorndale Argyle

The reopening of the Thorndale Red Line station on Sept. 28, followed a week later by the debut at Argyle, provides an opportunity to compare the work to the station rebuild at Morse, which CTA Tattler’s Kevin O’Neil called the “gold standard.”  With its “gorgeous, newly expanded stationhouse” and smooth concrete replacing the old wood platform, Morse earned an A-minus.

Thorndale and Argyle get a B+.

The Argyle station is more spacious now, the better to handle the evening rush. (Photo by Patrick Barry)

First the good stuff. The stationhouses are bigger and wider, as at Morse. What felt like dark and cramped tunnels before, especially as the evening rush funneled packs of riders through a single set of doors, now are light and open, the crowds clicking through more turnstiles and then spreading out to to the exits.

The stationhouses are once again gorgeous. The outer walls are sheathed in glazed white brick, with luscious bullnose trim around doors and windows. The floors are the real deal: durable terrazzo in a diamond pattern similar to the 1920s original, with black trim around the edges. The crowning touch, at both stations, is the original pair of beaux arts columns around the central doors, inside and out.

Both stations do a nice job of retaining their historic character. The white brick and terrazzo look very much like the old stations, and even the plaster trim has been recreated. At Thorndale, original cast iron newel posts anchor the bottom of the stair railings, anchored in new terrazzo. (At Morse, the stairwells terminate in a concrete passageway that’s not nearly as elegant.)

The platforms? As at Morse, they feature pre-cast concrete sections, new galvanized-steel stairwell covers and shelters, stainless-steel map kiosks, new benches, security, speakers and lighting. At Thorndale, the stained beadboard in the canopy was retained, with hardly a stray brushstroke of white paint from the complete reconditioning of the canopy structure. That’s a big change from the often-sloppy touch-up painting that has been the standard for the last few decades.

Kudos also on the quality of finish. The precast platform and reinforced canopy supports (those concrete humps) were installed with care. The caulkwork at seams and protrusions is cleaner and smoother than those first passes at Morse. The crews from Kiewit Infrastructure and its subcontractors clearly know how to build (or rebuild) a heavy-duty civic asset.

Thorndale stairwells show layers of old paint, which was removed at Morse. And railings have paint now, but will it last? (Photo by Patrick Barry)

So why the B+? At Morse, the columns holding up the tracks were sheathed in the same glazed brick as the walls, complete with curved corners. At Thorndale and Argyle, they were refinished with cement and painted white. They look fine now, but as a customer assistant pointed out, it won’t be long before someone’s writing “I love Jane” on them. Glazed brick can be cleaned; painted concrete has to be repainted again and again, until you’ve got that layer-cake-of-paint thing going.

And speaking of which, the Morse stairwells had the paint blasted off clear down to the old concrete, so that you can see lines from the wood forms that were used back in 1921 or so. At Argyle the scraping and blasting was less thorough. The paint is fresh, but it covers many uneven layers from decades past.

Perhaps the planned artwork installations will eventually cover the columns or stairwell walls with durable, power-washable tile mosaics. Let’s hope so.

One more thing. Early on, the CTA said that stainless steel railings would be standard on the seven stations, but that seems to have changed. The shiny black paint looks good now, but if past experience holds true, they’ll soon be chipped by the rings and bracelets of passing hands, requiring regular repainting that never really holds.

These weak points in otherwise very fine rehabs are probably related to costs. This job was awarded as a design-build contract with a fixed price of $57.4 million. No doubt CTA and Kiewit have been learning as they go, trimming costs as needed to come in on budget. That’s fair enough, but if the cost-cutting causes maintenance costs down the road, then it might have been the wrong place to cut.

On a brighter note? Every station has re-opened on time. 

See more photos in the gallery at CTA Tattler

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