Resourceful roofing

Ruff Roofers overcomes material availability challenges to renovate Baltimore's Union Square Pavilion


In southwest Baltimore, known to locals as "Sowebo," is Union Square, a neighborhood of historic houses, commerce buildings, art galleries and artist studios. Its landscape of walkways, a fountain and wrought iron lamps recalls a Victorian Era Baltimore. Most of Union Square is built on the former estate of Thorowgood Smith, Baltimore's second mayor who served from 1804-08. Neighborhood lore holds Smith's nephew suggested naming Union Square in 1846 to celebrate the victories of American forces during the Mexican-American War.

On the neighborhood's west side is Union Square Park, a 2 1/2-acre public space that showcases the community's signature Greek Revival structure, Union Square Pavilion. Architect John F. Hoss designed the iron Greek-style pavilion with fluted columns in 1850. It covers a natural spring that once was accessible by steps and, at one time, supplied water to the B&O Railroad.

In 2012, Union Square received a facelift with a new fountain, complete renovation of the pavilion and various other park improvements. Selected by the general contractor, Baltimore-based Allied Contractors Inc., Ruff Roofers Inc., Baltimore, performed the iconic pavilion's restoration.

A challenging start

The project's biggest challenge began months in advance of fabrication and installation. The Union Square Pavilion renovation project involved replacing the existing terne-metal roof system with a new custom-fabricated Follansbee Steel Terne II® sheet-metal roof system. Terne II is steel coated with zinc-tin and replaced the historic terne metal that has been used in the U.S. since colonial times. The zinc-tin coating protects the steel, serves as a paintable surface and allows for ease of soldering.

Four days before subcontract issuance, Ruff Roofers received notice that Follansbee Steel would cease operations. All pending orders would be filled as their existing material stock allowed, but no new orders would be fabricated. At the time of the contract award, Follansbee Steel held exclusive patent rights to Terne II metal production and was the only material source.

"The biggest challenge with material was not getting it to the job site," says Jeff Money, project manager for Ruff Roofers. "The biggest challenge was getting the material while it still existed."

With no ability to place an order with Follansbee Steel for this specific job, the material needed to be purchased immediately from current stock held by local suppliers. The flat-seam panels overlap and interlock, concealing a portion of the pan and making it impossible to obtain actual panel dimensions before removal. With on-site construction months away, Ruff Roofers performed a material take-off solely from visual inspection and measurements of exposed panel dimensions.

The specified material thickness was unavailable in a coil width that would match the existing panels. Ruff Roofers was able to find material in a width that would allow the new panels to match the existing panel dimensions; however, the thickness differed. After consulting with the project's architect, GWWO Inc./Architects, Baltimore, the team agreed to proceed with the lighter-gauge coil so the original dimensions could be replicated.

Restoring history

Once proper material was secured, the pavilion's roof system tear-off began Sept. 14, 2012. As small sections were removed, deteriorated rafters and decking were repaired or replaced as necessary. The rafter replacement was difficult because the original rafters had been soaked and curved specifically for the dome. Not having the time to perform a similar installation, Ruff Roofers mimicked the curvature of the existing rafters by cutting and trimming standard straight lumber.

Following rafter and deck repairs, the next challenge was installing the new flat-seam panels directly to the wood deck to replicate the appearance of the existing 500-square-foot dome roof. Project requirements called for matching the existing panel seam pattern—not an easy task because not only did the geometry of the panels change as the rows progressed from top to bottom to accommodate the roof's curvature, but adjoining panels in the same row differed in size and shape. Removing the existing metal panels in small segments allowed new panels to be in-stalled to replicate the existing layout. As work progressed, each section blended into previously completed sections. Ruff Roofers exercised great care and skill to replicate the layout, and every seam was sealed and locked by hand.

The overall panel sizes were increased slightly from the existing panels to accommodate a wider seam. Doing so improved the roof system's design while maintaining the original layout and seam locations. Mechanical attachments to the substrate were concealed, providing optimal weather protection of the finished roof system and adding an aesthetically pleasing and historically compatible appearance. All work was installed and attached from outside the structure using proven sheet metal details.

The curved panels and fascia were handcrafted in Ruff Roofers' off-site shop to match the original profile.

"The art of metal forming still thrives at Ruff Roofers," Money says. "The quality of work performed by the crew does justice to the preceding builders whose work is considered historic by nature of materials, craft, workmanship and most of all, the test of time."

Squared away

On Oct. 22, 2014, Ruff Roofers completed its work, demonstrating that professional, handcrafted, custom-fabricated sheet metal work is not a lost art. For its exceptional craftsmanship on Union Square Pavilion, Ruff Roofers received a 2014 Gold Circle Award in the Innovative Solutions: Reroofing category.

"The most rewarding part of the job is being nationally recognized by NRCA for the outstanding workmanship of the crew," says Money. "Those who are fortunate enough to observe the newly installed roof system have the benefit and pleasure of viewing present day work that will someday be viewed by future generations as historic."

Chrystine Elle Hanus is Professional Roofing's associate editor and NRCA's director of communications.



Project name: Union Square Pavilion
Project location: Baltimore
Project duration: Sept. 14, 2012-Oct. 22, 2012
Roof system type: Steel
Roofing contractor: Ruff Roofers Inc., Baltimore
Product manufacturer: Follansbee Steel, Follansbee, W.Va.
Gold Circle Awards category: Innovative Solutions: Reroofing

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