Brick Engstrom (right) connects his harness to a rope on a crane-like device Thursday morning that allows him, co-worker Colton Baucom and two other people to rappel down the 11-story State Office Building as they clean it with pressure washers. The first such cleaning in at least a decade, which began a week ago, is expected to take about another month. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Brick Engstrom (right) connects his harness to a rope on a crane-like device Thursday morning that allows him, co-worker Colton Baucom and two other people to rappel down the 11-story State Office Building as they clean it with pressure washers. The first such cleaning in at least a decade, which began a week ago, is expected to take about another month. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rappelling the dirt and slime from the State Office Building

11-story bastion of bureaucracy getting first thorough exterior cleaning in at least a decade.

Dressed in all-weather gear and a harness, and carrying an extra-large bottle of diluted bleach attached to a pressure washer, Brick Engstrom clearly wasn’t on his way to a bureaucratic cubicle job when he stepped off the elevator on the top floor of the State Office Building on Thursday morning.

Rather, he and three co-workers are giving employees inside the building quite a view from the windows — and an increasingly clear one — by danging from ropes on the exterior walls as they give the 11-story downtown building what officials say is the first thorough cleaning in at least a decade. Engstrom said they began working on the building about a week ago and expect it will take about another month to complete the job.

“Each section of about 50 feet, from top to bottom, takes a couple of hours,” he said, preparing to connect his harness to a crane-like device that allows the workers to rappel down the building as they clean.

Photos taken before (top) and after (bottom) cleaning portions of the State Office Building reveal the extent of organic material that has accumulated on the exterior during at least the past decade. (Photos courtesy of Bill Campbell / Alaska Division of Facilities Services)

Photos taken before (top) and after (bottom) cleaning portions of the State Office Building reveal the extent of organic material that has accumulated on the exterior during at least the past decade. (Photos courtesy of Bill Campbell / Alaska Division of Facilities Services)

An increasingly noticeable amount of “green slime” from organic matter such as moss and algae has accumulated on the exterior of the building over the years, said Bill Campbell, Southeast region hub manager for the state Division of Facilities Services, who has watched the buildup over nearly a decade on the job.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said, noting there have been discussions in past years about how to do the cleaning and its cost. “It’s good for the community. It’s good for the building. We’re just trying to class up Juneau a little bit at a time as we can. That was a big one for me.”

The exterior windows of the building are washed regularly by the same company now doing the more vigorous cleaning, but the panels making up much of the rest of the exterior “a little bit porous on the surface,” Campbell said.

“If we don’t wash them that (organic material) really takes a foothold on that surface and just becomes like an aquaculture farm,” he said. “That’s what we were looking at in all of that dark black appearance, all that dark black staining.”

A worker dangles high on the exterior of the State Office Building while washing it Thursday morning. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A worker dangles high on the exterior of the State Office Building while washing it Thursday morning. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Spending weeks cleaning the exterior of the building in October isn’t exactly the sunniest of jobs, but Campbell said companies capable of such work were fully booked washing exterior windows of buildings during the summer. He said while the cleaning contract is for six weeks, he expects the work to be done before then — and hopefully before truly nasty weather sets in.

“We can’t have these guys in Taku winds up there,” he said. “Weather permitting I assume that’s going to be done within the next four weeks, maximum.”

Engstrom, whose father Andy owns the 25-year-old Capital City Windows that’s doing the cleaning, said he generally doesn’t mind working in the frequently rainy weather since it makes the cleaning easier.

“It pre-soaks the building for us,” he said. “The water does a lot of the removal, or a lot of the softening.”

Helping Engstrom on Thursday morning was Colton Baucom, a first-year employee who said he was hired without any special experience hanging from tall buildings or other objects.

“I worked for Allen Marine last year and then doing different hobbies,” he said. “I ran into (Engstrom) and I went home back down south for the winter. He gave me a call and he was like ‘hey, would you mind coming up and helping us?’ And so now I’m rappelling off buildings.”

Baucom said his feeling about taking on such work is “you’ve just got to do it.”

“Click in and go over, and make sure you’ve got all your safety gear with you,” he said.

Engstrom, who said his father is planning to retire soon, is looking forward to continuing the family business.

“Oh man, it’s fun. I can’t believe they pay me to do it,” he said. “Even after falling I’ve come back to it.”

Wait, what?

“I fell 55 feet on the Marine View Building. The mainline snapped,” Engstrom said, recounting one particularly ominous incident. He said a safety mechanism wasn’t secured and “it was only like a second-and-a-half before I hit the glass, and both legs went through panes of glass and I hit a steel beam between my legs.”

The company now uses a different safety system, he noted.

While “that was a little scary the first time back” when he returned to work when the next summer season began six months later, “now I don’t think about it at all,” Engstrom said.

Campbell, noting the State Office Building has the most square footage “of any building in our system,” said before the project started “I had my crew go out and purposely take pictures from every angle that we could find. So I have a whole bunch of ‘befores.’” He said he’s looking forward to comparing those to the “afters.”

“I’m really happy about this,” he said. “Just for the community. It’s an eyesore. It’s just really bothered me for a very long time and I’m happy to be able to get it done.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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