A Soaring Steeple

The amount of time, effort and craftsmanship that went into the steeple restoration project at Steeple Square community event center in Dubuque, Iowa, impressed all of the judges for the 2019 Metal Construction News Building and Roofing Awards, leading them to award it the category winner for Retrofit Metal Roofs.

Craftsmanship shines through copper steeple restoration project

By Marcy Marro

Photo: Jason Lee

“I thought it was an incredible project in terms of the craft that went into creating all of these details,” says Awards Judge Alan Reed, FAIA, LEED AP, principal at GWWO Architects, Baltimore. “I just felt that this was head and shoulders above just because of all the different configurations and the craft that went into this. Even the soldered joints were really well executed. It’s a beautiful project.”

Historical Pride

Originally built in 1867, the former home of St. Mary’s Parish, Steeple Square is one of the tallest churches in the Dubuque area, standing at 211 feet. When the church was built, it became a monument for the economic, social and educational achievements of its German immigrant parishioners. After the Roman Catholic parish closed its doors in June 2010, the parish buildings remained largely vacant with the exception of the former convent.

Today, this landmark building is being reestablished as a center for culture, community and education. Renovations on the building began in 2016, with the steeple restoration taking place from June 2018 to November 2018. The former church has been transformed into one of Dubuque’s most unique event spaces, while the former school became the Francis Apartments, which provides permanent supportive and market-rate housing. Additionally, the former rectory opened earlier this year as the Marita Theisen Childcare Center.

Photo: Jason Lee

Revitalization and Repurpose

Gronen Restoration, Dubuque, was the construction manager for the project, repairing the aging clocks, masonry and stained glass windows. The Durable Restoration Co., Columbus, Ohio, handled the complete metal restoration of the upper steeple, which encompassed more than 100 feet of new copper. Chicago-based Chicago Metal Supply and Fabrication Inc.was brought in by Durable Restoration to fabricate exact replicas of the ornate original pieces of the steeple, many of which had deteriorated so severely that only partial pieces remained.

Durable Restoration used more than 15,000 pounds of 20-ounce copper sheets from Hussey Copper, Leetsdale, Pa., and Corken Steel Products Co., Covington, Ky., to create hundreds of flat lock panels to cover the steeple, while Chicago Metal Supply used an additional 10,000 pounds of copper from Hussey Copper and Aurubis AG, Hamburg, Germany, to fabricate the dozens of decorative pieces, which were installed by Durable Restoration crews.

Photo: Jason Lee

Original pieces arrived in Chicago in early January 2018, and took Chicago Metal Supply nearly 1,700 hours to fabricate the highly detailed pieces, including aprons, pans, valleys, fascia, vented dormers, layered dormers, gable ends, finials and gold leafing. Due to the variety of decorative pieces, the restoration crews, made up of four to six people, had to make constant modifications to match the historic nature of the building.

To keep consistent with the original layout, Shane Day, director of special projects for Durable Restoration, says the team scaled out the steeple on a dry erase board to proportionally size the flat lock panels.

Through the use of scaffolding, a crane and other lift equipment, Durable Restoration replaced the existing sheet metal with the fabricated copper through the use of scaffolding, a crane and other lift equipment. This presented a number of challenges, which Day notes included getting one decorative piece of each element off for replication while swinging in a crane basket. “Another challenge was getting the large elements snaked through scaffolding into position for installation,” he says.

Photo: Jason Lee

The weather also played a challenge, Day notes as the project went from late fall into winter with the winds and cold temperatures.

“Artfully restoring a historically significant building is never an easy undertaking, but partnering with a company as respected as Chicago Metal Supply always makes the job less worrisome,” explains Gary Howes, COO at Durable Restoration. “Their exceptional finished products are stunning and their true passion for bringing iconic buildings back to life can be seen in all they do.”

“Our team prides itself on our combination of Old World metal and copper-smithing techniques with today’s cutting-edge technology,” adds Boguslaw Bosak, owner of Chicago Metal Supply.

Awards and Accolades

The Steeple Square project has received a number of awards in recent months, including a 2019 North American Copper in Architecture (NACIA) award from the Copper Development Association (CDA) and the Canadian Copper & Brass Development Association (CCBDA), and the 2019 award for metal roofing from the International Federation for the Roofing Trade (IFD).

Jaime Delgadillo, lead fabricator/designer at Chicago Metal Supply, says, “It’s a great feeling to be appreciated for the work we do. The people who work at Chicago Metal can take pride in knowing that something they have made with their own hands will be seen and admired long after they are gone. The people who were part of this project made it easy, which is amazing, knowing how large and complicated it actually was.”