Vacant for more than 28 years, Kehoe Iron Works is a 6.3-acre registered brownfield located at the northeast corner of the National Landmark Historic District in Savannah, Ga. Once the site of an iron foundry and gas company, Kehoe Iron Works seemed doomed for eternal abandonment.
But thanks to the vision of Savannah business leader Charles Morris, after years of construction, the complex now features an 8,000-square-foot event space, outdoor plaza and amphitheater featuring a view of the Savannah River.
Metalcrafts, A Tecta America Company LLC, Savannah, was recommended by the project’s architect, Lominack Kolman Smith Architects, Savannah, and selected by the project’s construction manager, New South Construction, Atlanta, to install the metal components on the challenging renovation project.
In August 2015, the Metalcrafts team began work on the Kehoe Iron Works’ rehabilitation project that included structural stabilization and restoration of the historical machine shop and masonry foundry buildings. The L-shaped complex had suffered significant deterioration throughout the decades.
“We knew this was going to be a challenging project,” says Allen Lancaster, vice president and project administrator for Metalcrafts. “But we were determined to address every condition and goal with fervor and creativity, transforming issues into opportunities.”
It was determined at the project outset the machine shop would be renovated first; it had suffered the most from the site’s abandonment.
“Entire sections of cladding were missing, leaving its internal organs exposed,” says Jeffery Lancaster, vice president and project manager for Metalcrafts.
With several columns rusted and dangling from the truss system, structural stabilization came first. Workers spliced the columns, incorporated new base material and restored the building’s steel framing and truss system.
A unique challenge with renovating the machine shop was custom-fabricating sheet-metal shingles for the central tower’s mansard roof, stainless-steel ornamental ledge, window covers and cornice shapes. The metal shingles, corbels below the ledge and ornamental shapes were part of the original construction design from 1873 and were significantly deteriorated.
Using a combination of scaffolding and man-lift equipment, Metalcrafts workers removed the old sheet metal by hand and repaired the wood deck and/or replaced framing members. Workers kept some sheet-metal components intact so they could be precisely replicated.
“There are no off-the-shelf patterns for the pieces of metal where you can go to the store and purchase them,” says Ronnie Hudson, fabrication team leader for Metalcrafts.
Only qualified and experienced sheet-metal craftsmen can perform such a task of replicating historical components.
“Metalcrafts people have the knowledge and skill to take a piece of flat sheet metal and form it into various shapes that match items removed from the building,” says Jeffery Lancaster. “Not only do they have to understand how to fabricate the individual pieces, but they also have to understand how to assemble them so they can be taken to the job site and installed by other sheet-metal craftsmen who specialize in installing the items.”
Working in Metalcrafts’ fabrication shop, craftsmen custom-fabricated the metal shingles, window covers and trims from paint grip (pre-treated sheet metal) and used 24-gauge Type 304 stainless steel to produce the components for the ornamental ledge.
Once on-site, workers installed the new metal shingles and soldered the stainless-steel ledge.
The widow’s walk
The machine shop included an iron railing around a widow’s walk that no longer was present on the structure. Using black and white photographs and written descriptions, Metalcrafts craftsmen helped duplicate the design.
“Replicating the railing required an understanding of the building’s original construction to incorporate that knowledge with new code requirements, wind ratings, availability of present-day materials and keeping the building’s roof system weathertight,” Hudson says.
With the help of a local iron work contractor, Metalcrafts craftsmen worked with Lominack Kolman Smith Architects to acquire an iron post and base that would match the original profile. The base and post had to be anchored to meet current wind code and Occupational Safety and Health Administration fall-protection standards, allow for the base to be flashed to the new roof system and look exactly like the original seen in the photos.
“It is amazing how challenging it was to combine these tasks when the selection of the historical post and railing was limited in size and shape,” says Alvin Tremble, installation team leader for Metalcrafts. “This required knowledge of mitering, alignment, cutting, fitting and special care to make sure the newly custom-fabricated pieces of metal fit in place on the existing building. The entire team from design to fabrication to installation worked together to accomplish this critical visual feature.”
Installing the new custom sheet-metal components required workers to use a combination of scaffolding, aerial lifts and permanent anchor points installed on the upper low-slope roof for adequate tie-off points. The anchors were left in place for the safety of future workers.
Blending old and new
In addition to historically renovating the machine shop, zinc sheet-metal features were added to an addition north of the central tower where an elevator and circulatory staircase were incorporated outside of the building’s historical footprint.
Clad in zinc and glass in a contemporary design, the addition allows for the clear delineation of new versus old. It is completely self-supporting with steel frames to match the slope of neighboring building rooflines. Capped by a terrace, the addition incorporates needed facilities while preserving interior spaces and providing views of the Savannah River.
On the new center structure, Metalcrafts workers fabricated corrugated shingles, soffit panels, and related flashings and details from VMZINC™ in Quartz.
Workers installed the shingles on the addition’s side walls where they wrap around a corner and into a large recessed window, as well as on a small wall panel to completely surround the window that is a main feature seen when entering the complex. As these pieces were critical to the building’s overall visual appearance, precise craftsmanship was needed during fabrication and installation.
“Also just as important was the understanding of zinc metal and its application,” Tremble says. “Zinc metal has to have the ability for air movement behind the materials. Although the outside visual appearance was important, what happens behind the zinc metal is equally important.”
All the details
After the Kehoe Iron Works’ building owner saw the new zinc wall shingles and the way they accent the building, the Metalcrafts team was asked to cover the wood shutters on other buildings with the same zinc material.
“We accepted the challenge and cut new arched wood shutters and completely covered them with zinc metal,” Hudson says.
The building owner also requested new window hinges to allow the shutters to function while remaining secure. The weight of the shutters meant the hinges had to be durable and strong enough to support their intended use. Adding to the difficulty, the hinges had to match the color of the metal roof system and rebuilt mansard.
The Metalcrafts team designed and custom-fabricated new hinges using zinc and powder-coat paint finish. The team incorporated the painted zinc throughout other areas to accentuate details.
Throughout the project, Metalcrafts workers preserved all historical elements, including repointing brick walls, reconstructing a chimney cap, and restoring architectural and decorative iron features.
Documentation and research conducted by the Metalcrafts team served as the backbone of all work performed, including the retention of historical elements whenever possible and the replication of missing elements where deemed necessary.
“We faced many challenges as we rebuilt a collection of historical industrial structures within Savannah’s National Landmark Historic District,” Jeffery Lancaster says. “The craftsmen at Metalcrafts meticulously reproduced all metal elements, and their work has become a centerpiece of the complex.”
Preservation in action
After three years of diligent work, in January 2018, the Metalcrafts team completed its work on Kehoe Iron Works. Thanks to their historical preservation ethic, Metalcrafts workers revitalized a long-forgotten and abandoned section of Savannah’s landmark district and an important piece of the city’sindustrial, cultural and architectural history.
“The rehabilitation of Kehoe Iron Works is a particularly strong example of preservation principle in action,” says Rebecca Fenwick, preservation director for Lominack Kolman Smith Architects. “A conscious effort was made by the project team at the direction of Mr. Morris to retain as much historic material as possible. Elements that had been lost and the tower’s decorative widow’s walk were restored.”
“All this took time, patience and skill for which Metalcrafts has become known in the Savannah area,” adds Jerry Lominack, principal for Lominack Kolman Smith Architects. “Metalcrafts played a major role in the success of the Kehoe Iron Works complex renovation.”
The Kehoe Iron Works restoration project has received accolades from historical preservationists locally and statewide, including the President’s Award for Historic Preservation from the Historic Savannah Foundation, its top award, and a 2019 Marguerite Williams Preservation Award from The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation for having the greatest impact for the year in Georgia. In addition, the project received a 2020 Gold Circle Award honorable mention from the Roofing Alliance in the Outstanding Workmanship category.
“The challenges of this project were many, and with a design team that worked together, an extremely successful project was completed for the owner and community,” Allen Lancaster says. “The new facility was renovated to the historical standards of the day with the look of the original Kehoe Foundry but with new features that highlight a building designed for multiple uses. It is a facility the city and community are proud of because of its historical significance and preservation, and to know our talented craftsmen performed the work is truly rewarding. They deserve credit.”
Project name: Kehoe Iron Works
Project location: Savannah, Ga.
Project duration: August 2015—January 2018
Roof system type: Paint grip sheet metal
Roofing contractor: Metalcrafts, A Tecta America Company LLC, Savannah, Ga.