An Ohio University Benefits from New Technology and Innovation to Recreate a Historic Cupola

The cupola’s spires created a serious challenge. When the team removed the spires’ flat metal cladding, it revealed a much more ornate “barbershop pole” section that wasn’t replicated during a prior renovation. Because the spires were made of oak 2 by 4s with sheet metal wrapped around them, it would have been very difficult to radius the oak pieces with PVC. Instead, Perry purchased four, 20-foot pieces of 2-foot-diameter PVC pipe for the bases. Then Sandrock made the circular mouldings for the spires.

Even with the help of machines, the detailed millwork took approximately 1,100 man-hours. PHOTO: Versatex

Even with the help of machines, the detailed millwork took approximately 1,100 man-hours. PHOTO: Versatex

“I brought the mouldings back to the shop, routed grooves in the back side, heated them and then bent them to fit that pipe,” Perry says. “You only get to do that once to get the correct profile, and it was an extremely difficult process.”

Once the mouldings cooled, Perry epoxied them onto the pipe and added stainless-steel anchors. But the two left-hand and right-hand mouldings at the bottom of the spires created the most daunting problem.

“The template for the bottom mouldings looked like a ‘J’ when laid flat and included complex bends, radii, curves and miters like you can’t imagine. It took me five attempts to get the templates right. By far, those were the most difficult pieces to manufacture in the entire project,” Perry recalls.

The cupola’s historic copper shingle roof was retained. Although the original spire caps were white-painted sheet metal, the university elected to replace the tops of spires with copper caps to match the roof. Perry sent drawings to Chris Industries Architectural Metal, Joliet, Ill. The firm manufactured the finials, taper and bell and soldered it all together for a perfect fit in the field.

Sandrock also replaced wood centers on the spindles and handrails–this time with metal. “We put a square aluminum extruded bar in the center and then glued PVC around it to create a square bar. Then we sent it to a CNC lathe to turn them into round spindles and handrails to match our AutoCAD drawing,” he explains.

Complicated Access

Accurate drawings were critical for proper duplication. Many pieces were painstakingly hand drawn in AutoCAD and sent to the CNC router. PHOTO: Bill Perry

Accurate drawings were critical for proper duplication. Many pieces were painstakingly hand drawn in AutoCAD and sent to the CNC router. PHOTO: Bill Perry


The cupola’s soffit elevation is 86-feet high, and the team erected scaffolding and wrapped the cupola in Visqueen to prevent old lead-paint flakes from falling onto campus during removal. American International Construction was concurrently performing an adjacent renovation to historic campus stairs and a third project to install geothermal wells was underway, making the site highly congested. In addition, the extensive restoration lasted through the school year, which added traffic from students, professors and staff.

PVC becomes brittle in cold weather so the crews worked inside a continually heated Visqueen envelope for months. To prevent cutting the PVC apart during subsequent reroofs of Marting Hall, Perry made a 5 1/2-inch removable moulding for access to the step-flashing. The team also installed a new rubber membrane roof on the cupola floor along with copper flashing. Marting Hall’s public visibility had the entire city of Berea intently monitoring the effort. “So many people have thanked us for the renovation,” Kerbusch says. “It was great to see it come to life in its original form. Their amazing job upholds the heritage and traditional character of the university.”

Materials

HIGH-DENSITY PVC FOR CUPOLA SURFACES, MOULDINGS, SPIRES, CORBELS, HANDRAILS AND SPINDLES: Versatex
ROOF MEMBRANE: Firestone Building Products
COPPER FLASHING: Tru Form Metal Products Inc.

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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