Luzerne County engineer Christopher Belleman expected the new courthouse roof shingles to look like more expensive terra cotta tiles, but he had to wait for installation to be certain.
Inspecting the first series of shingles now covering the west side of the courthouse roof this week, Belleman is satisfied with the result. The shingles are specially designed to create an optical illusion of terra cotta.
“I think it looks spectacular. It really complements the courthouse,” Belleman said.
County officials wanted the appearance of a terra cotta pan-and-cover roof because old postcards and artifacts indicate that’s what the historic structure sported when it opened in 1909.
The state Historical and Museum Commission requires the county to maintain the structure’s original appearance as much as possible when completing repairs.
High-performance shingles designed to mimic terra cotta were selected because the shingles carry a 50-year warranty and cost 60- to 75-percent less, officials said.
Dunmore Roofing and Supply Co. will be paid $834,200 to replace the roof, under the supervision of Mark J. Sobeck Roof Consulting Inc. of Wilkes-Barre. The project will be funded with money previously borrowed through bonds.
The shingles stand out because they are replacing a bland, beige rubber roofing material that was 31 years old and worn out.
Contractors ripped off the the old rubber and scraped away at least two layers of underlying roofing material to prime the sloped surfaces for the new shingles.
Thick insulation foam panels, a plywood deck and an ice and water shield must be sandwiched between the raw surface and new shingles.
Parts of the roof that can’t be seen from below will be coated with thicker rubber that has a 30-year warranty, said Belleman, the county’s operational services division head.
Rubber was selected for hidden surfaces because it’s elastic and durable and costs less than tile, he said.
“You can’t beat it,” he said.
Contractors also will remove unused antennas and clean out eight catacombs that allow access to piping while they’re on top of the building, Belleman said.
The project is the final step to stop leaks that damaged interior plaster and artwork. The county 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 roof line edges.
Dunmore Roofing is set to complete the roof work around Thanksgiving.
Former county engineer Joe 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.
Instead of blaming ice, local architect Carl J. Handman, who was involved in historical research and earlier phases of courthouse repairs, attributes the terra cotta roof failure to the way it was installed.
Council Chairman Tim McGinley said the new shingles are a fitting addition.
“It looks like the type of roof that should be on the courthouse. It is very aesthetically pleasing,” McGinley said.