Salvaging history

Wagner Roofing reroofs Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

  • Wagner Roofing crew members stand on scaffolding to work on the large dome.Photo courtesy of Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md.
  • Crew members work on one of the small dome's structural deck.Photo courtesy of Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md.
  • A portion of the new copper roof system and large domePhoto courtesy of Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md.
  • Because all the tile on the domes could not be salvaged, Wagner Roofing installed 20-ounce flat-seam copper on the rear of the domes where it cannot be seen from street level.Photo courtesy of Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md.

Washington, D.C., has been the U.S.' capital and government hub since 1790, and you would be hard-pressed to find a U.S. city with a richer culture and history. A piece of that history, one of Washington's oldest synagogues, is located in the city's Chinatown neighborhood at the northwest corner of Sixth and I streets—Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

The synagogue was constructed for Adas Israel congregation during 1906-08 and was the first building in Washington with a reinforced concrete foundation. In 1951, the congregation moved and sold the building to Turner Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, which renovated the building's exterior and interior. The building was again put up for sale in 2002 when the Episcopal congregation announced plans to relocate.

Jewish Historical Society Executive Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum launched an effort to reacquire the building for the Jewish community to use. After the property was nearly sold to a buyer who planned to turn the building into a nightclub, three local real estate developers purchased the building, pledging to turn it into a Jewish community facility. During the next several years, the building's interior and exterior were restored to their original 1908 appearance.

Sixth and I Historic Synagogue has since been rededicated for use by the Jewish community. Former President George W. Bush visited the synagogue Sept. 14, 2005; the synagogue was recognized as one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in the U.S. in 2007; and in 2009, Newsweek named Sixth and I Historic Synagogue one of the 25 most vibrant congregations in the U.S.

In 2009, leaks began developing in the synagogue's roof, which consisted of flat- and standing-seam tin roofs on various low- and steep-slope areas, as well as three small domes and a large central dome with Spanish tapered clay tile roof systems. The building owners contacted Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md., to roof the synagogue.

"We were asked to stop any leaks and install new roof systems that will last for the next 100 years," says Chuck Wagner, Wagner Roofing's president.

A history of involvement

This is not the first time Wagner Roofing has performed work on Sixth and I Historic Synagogue—the two have a long history of involvement. Wagner Roofing first worked on the synagogue in 1959 when the owners at the time contacted the company to replace the steel nails securing the roof tiles on the building's domes.

Wagner Roofing also worked on the synagogue during the 2005 renovations when one of the owners contacted Wagner Roofing regarding leaks in the small northeast dome and large dome.

"Leaks were visible from the interior sanctuary's cathedral ceiling," Wagner says. "For the large dome, we removed 10 courses of tile and flat-seam tin below the finial. We replaced bad sheathing, re-laid the salvaged tile, installed a flat-seam copper roof and reinstalled the finial."

Wagner Roofing also fabricated and installed a replica of the finial's original Star of David; the 31- by 36-inch pre-patinated copper star was replicated based on drawings from the building's original architectural plans.

Because the damage to the northeast dome was more extensive, Wagner Roofing removed all the existing clay tiles, salvaging as many as possible. Crew members replaced the old sheathing and deteriorated rafters where needed and installed a Grace Ice & Water Shield® self-adhering roof underlayment. The salvaged tiles were reinstalled, and a flat-seam copper roof was installed below the finial.

Continuing its decades of involvement with the building, Wagner Roofing began its most recent work on the synagogue roof in January 2010.

A complete replacement

A seven-person Wagner Roofing crew led by Randy Herald, Kevin Morgan and Bob Wooldridge—Wagner Roofing's sheet metal foreman, project manager and roofing foreman, respectively—began work on Sixth and I Historic Synagogue by removing 7,000 square feet of tile from the large central dome and smaller northwest and southeast domes. The salvaged tile was cleaned before being reinstalled on the domes.

The domes' structural decks consisted of 2- by 8-inch radius tapered wood purlins attached to a steel sub-structure, and a 1- by 6-inch sheathing ran vertically over the purlins.

"We replaced 30 percent of the purlins," Wagner says. "All the sheathing was removed and replaced with one layer of 1/4-inch-thick plywood and one layer of 3/8-inch-thick plywood, which we glued and screwed into the purlins."

Crew members then installed Grace Ice & Water Shield self-adhering roof underlayment and 30-pound felt over the entire deck.

After the salvaged tile had been cleaned, crew members reinstalled the tile on the domes with stainless-steel screws. Tile width and length varies from 16 inches at the eaves to 8 1/2 inches at the domes' tops and consists of 17 courses on the small domes and 34 courses on the large dome.

"Because we could not salvage all the tile, we installed 20-ounce flat-seam copper on the rear of the domes where it cannot be seen from street level," Wagner says. "Because of the steep slope, the seams were joined with a Z strip."

Crew members tore off the existing roof systems on the low-slope areas under the small domes, which consisted of flat-seam tin over a built-up roof with a polymer-modified bitumen cap sheet and 1- by 6-inch sheathing. The 7-in-12 (30-degree) standing-seam tin roof areas below the main dome and tile roof areas between the small domes also were torn off.

"We replaced all deteriorated rafters, purlins and sheathing and installed 20-ounce flat-seam copper with soldered seams on the low-slope portions and 16-ounce standing-seam copper with double-lock seams on the sloped areas," Wagner says.

Wagner Roofing workers also replaced the galvanized iron cornice, water table and radius ornamental metal tile on the north and east facades with 16-ounce lead-coated copper with soldered and locked seams.

"Concerning drainage on the four low-slope roof areas, the existing drains were simple sleeves that had been replaced each time a new roof system was installed," Wagner says. "We replaced those with side-mount commercial roof drains. We had to remove part of the walls to install the drains."

Additionally, Wagner Roofing developed a system that would allow the building's operations manager to easily change the light bulbs inside the 60-foot-high sanctuary by accessing the bulbs through 6-foot-tall stained glass windows in the exterior walls of the large dome.

And during its work on the synagogue, Wagner Roofing also focused efforts on safety.

"We used complete fall-protection systems, including full-body harnesses, lanyards, ropes and retractables," Morgan says. "Although our workers are trained in Occupational Safety and Health Administration practices and each carry at least a 10-hour card and our superintendent carries a 30-hour card, we also employed an outside safety inspection company to perform random site inspections on everything from scaffolding to fall protection."

Weathering hardships

Wagner Roofing crew members faced some difficulties reroofing Sixth and I Historic Synagogue—most notably, harsh weather conditions.

When the crew began work on the synagogue in January 2010, it endured extremely cold temperatures, and work had to be suspended for two weeks during blizzards. During the summer months, crew members faced the opposite problem.

"We watched the thermometer on the roof where the sun was reflecting off the copper—it hit 120 degrees by 8:30 a.m.," Wagner says.

Additionally, work had to be scheduled around weddings, bar mitzvahs and other weekday events held at the synagogue.

And the roofing work itself proved challenging.

"Wooldridge's ability to anticipate the job's needs were remarkable—the building owner called me three times to compliment his abilities," Wagner says. "Because he is good at math, he knew how to lay out the domes for scaffolding and carpentry and supplied our crew with the information needed to complete the metal work. And most important, there were no leaks during the structural repairs, which were challenging."

The finished look

Wagner Roofing put the finishing touches on Sixth and I Historic Synagogue's new roof in January, a few months past schedule; change orders were in excess of the original contract because of structural repairs and deteriorated façade metal. However, the synagogue's finished appearance makes the extra time worthwhile.

"The tile roof looks like it did when the building was constructed in 1906," Wagner says.

Overall, Wagner is pleased with how the project progressed.

"The interior dome did not leak in the process, and the owners were delighted with the final result," he says.

Ashley St. John is Professional Roofing's associate editor.

Project name: Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
Project location: Washington, D.C.
Project duration: January 2010-January 2011
Roof system types: Copper and tile
Roofing contractor: Wagner Roofing Co., Hyattsville, Md.
Roofing materials manufacturers: Grace Construction Products, Cambridge, Mass., and Revere Copper Products Inc., Rome, N.Y.


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