First the Luzerne County Courthouse domes went from white to light gray.
Now the sloped parts of the roof visible from some ground-level vantage points will be covered with red-orange shingles designed to create an optical illusion of terra cotta barrel tiles.
These sloped gables are currently topped with rubber roofing coated in tan.
“Now they disappear. In the future they will stand out,” said Mark J. Sobeck, the county’s roofing consultant on the project. “It’s going to be a totally different look.”
The county isn’t trying to boost the historic structure’s curb appeal. The projects are part of a ongoing repairs designed to waterproof and return the building to its original appearance.
Roof repairs are the final step to stop leaks that have damaged interior plaster and artwork. The county has spent millions of dollars in recent years redoing the skylight atop the main dome, stripping and sealing up the terra cotta on the domes and repairing masonry and roofline edges.
Dunmore Roofing and Supply Co. will be paid $834,200 to replace the roof, under the supervision of Sobeck’s company, Mark J. Sobeck Roof Consulting Inc. of Wilkes-Barre. The project will be funded with money previously borrowed through bonds.
Key photo, artifacts
The county’s choice for the sloped sections was based on an old photograph and artifacts discovered by a building-and-grounds employee indicating the structure originally had a red-orange Spanish barrel terra cotta tile roof, also known as a pan-and-cover system, county officials have said.
Former county chief engineer Joe Gibbons endorsed high-performance shingles designed to mimic this type of tile because the shingles carry a 50-year warranty and cost 60- to 75-percent less, he told county council earlier this year.
The state Historical and Museum Commission requires the county to maintain the structure’s original appearance as much as possible when completing repairs.
Gibbons believed the original terra cotta roofing system was replaced after several years because it could not withstand damage from ice sliding off the domes. Shingles are “more resistant” to such impact, he has said.
“You will have the look of barrel tiles without the risk of cracking,” Sobeck said.
Sobeck said GAF Monaco shingles were selected after reviewing many options. Contractors are installing scaffolding and enclosed trash shoots to remove the old material, he said. Dunmore Roofing is set to complete the roof work before Thanksgiving.
Local architect Carl J. Handman, who was involved in historical research and earlier phases of courthouse repairs, said he had unsuccessfully pushed for another terra cotta roof.
“I do not know any shingle that would faithfully replicate the look of a terra cotta pan-and-cover roofing system,” Handman said.
Handman believes the original terra cotta roof failed because of the way it was installed, not because of ice.
An article in The American Architect detailing the courthouse construction said the tiles were nailed onto porous brick that had been set in concrete, he said.
Handman said he would nail the tiles onto a roofing system that provides waterproofing but also a layer of breathing room for water to dry out.
“The porous brick would freeze and thaw and eventually break the tiles. If you were to install terra cotta today, you wouldn’t put it on porous brick, especially in our climate,” he said.
The flat portions of the courthouse roof that can’t be seen from below will be topped with a new rubber covering, Sobeck said. The old rubber roof was 31 years old. The replacement will be thicker and have a 30-year warranty, he said.
Rubber was selected because it’s more elastic and durable, he said.