A roof for the generations

This winter, we’re beginning work on the roof over our sanctuary, which will continue throughout the spring and summer. We’re replacing our roof with historical 90-year slate shingles and reinforcing its underlying structure to ensure its integrity for generations to come. We invite you to follow our progress regularly as work continues.

Update for September 11

For the first time in over six months, Westminster is scaffolding free.

Grand River Builders has concluded all work on the exterior of the building related to the roof. The slate has been laid, the new cupola is in place, the snow guards have been installed, trusses have been repaired and gutters have been fixed, amongst a wide number of other details. All of this, and work still remains.

Though the new roof has been installed and is completely functional, Grand River Builders will be around for another couple of weeks while they tie up some loose ends. Those loose ends are mostly cosmetic.

Due to heavy traffic, the lawn nearest Weston/Lagrave is in dire need of some attention. Grand River Builders will spend part of the next week leveling the ground and reseeding. Following that project, the fence will be reinstalled, restoring the church to a much more eye friendly appearance.

In the meantime, they have been quite busy.

A new scuttle hole has been installed above the balcony in the sanctuary.Though a small amount of work remains, the end of the project is truly in sight. This will provide access to our attic and should reduce the amount of traffic in our choir loft attic access area. Aside from the access hatch, handrails have been installed, light fixtures have been replaced & equipment has been removed.

Masters of the trade, Grand River Builders will immediately begin work on their next project – replacing the roof at St. Mark’s. For those who will miss seeing the scaffolding, it will be only a couple of blocks away!


Update for August 20

Weston St. became very crowded today while Grand River Builders prepared to install our new cupola. Removing the dated and worn piece that was in place and replacing it with a newly fabricated cupola required the use of a crane.

Beginning at around 9:00 AM on Wednesday morning, the crews began prepping to remove the existing piece. The crane was brought in & stabilized before pulling down the decades old cupola that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing. After removing the piece, crews quickly performed minor repairs to the roof to ready for installation of the base piece.

The installation of the base piece was considered to be the most labor-intensive part of the installation, given that it needed to be precisely leveled before additional pieces could be installed. Somewhat surprisingly, the process was very quick! Grand River Builders had the base installed by approximately 10:00 AM. The remaining pieces were assembled on the ground.

Following the leveling of the base, the crane lifted the mid section and point upward, set it in place & Grand River Builders went to work. The cupola is now in place & looking better than anyone could possibly have imagined. Though it does deviate a mild amount from the original design, careful attention has been paid to ensure that it is period correct.

Installing the cupola was one of the final “major” pieces in our roofing project. Slate will need to be installed around the new cupola & other minor finishing touches will be applied before the crew begins the tear down of all scaffolding. If all goes well, the project should wrap within a couple of weeks!

Update for April 27

Work was suspended on the interior of the sanctuary for much of the month of April, allowing the craftsmen of Grand River Builders to concentrate their energy on the exterior of the roof itself; and outside, there was plenty to do.

As the decorative metal caps were removed from the parapet wall surrounding the roof, extensive damage to both the masonry and carpentry supporting the metalwork was revealed. Replacing the old metal caps with custom-crafted, painted copper caps had always been a part of the plan, and some damage to the underlying wall had been anticipated, but, once again, Westminster offered a bit of a surprise. We need to replace the damaged masonry and rebuild the wooden support structure with materials that will match the anticipated life of the slate tiles. This work is well underway.

(Interesting architectural note: Westminster has several key design elements which identify the building as an adaptation of the Gothic Revival style of architecture, a style very popular for churches built in the 19th century. Besides the parapet wall, these features include, the pointed arch windows, the steep pitched roof and the pointed dormers.)

Work has resumed on the interior of the sanctuary where the craftsmen are tackling the critical repairs on the rotten end of truss #3 and the crumbling section of wall upon which it rests. This is a complicated structural problem and, Grand River Builders has collaborated closely with JDH Engineering to develop the best strategy for raising the truss to allow these repairs to be made. The scaffolding to support this work is being erected in the southwest corner of the sanctuary. Jacking equipment will be brought in to very slowly elevate the truss, and the entire work area will be enclosed in a floor-to-ceiling tent. A system of fans and vents will pull the plaster dust out of the tent to the outside of the building. It won’t be pretty, but it is the best possible solution to protect the organ. How long will this inside work take? The current, best estimate is four to six weeks, during which time the scaffolding and support jack will have to remain in place.

Week 6 update: March 16

As you may remember, last week brought news of an “unexpected complication” to the roof project.  The rotting end of truss #3 and the crumbling condition of the wall beneath it were not all that surprising in a building the age of Westminster, but they do present an “interesting challenge” to our engineers and builders.

We had hoped that the necessary repair work could begin this week.  However, problems with logistics and equipment have delayed that tentative schedule.  So, with an eye on important events already on the calendar (especially Holy Week and Easter), we have asked that any work on the interior of the sanctuary be suspended until late April.

Meanwhile, work can and will continue on the other areas of this multi-dimensional project, and in these areas, there is plenty of progress.
All four tie-rods are in place.  The brief burst of spring-like weather cleared the roof of snow, making it possible for the engineers and builders to begin the process of tightening the turn-buckles on three of the tie-rods. This is an important step in stabilizing the structure.

On the west side of the exterior, more than half the roof has been stripped of shingles and covered with overlapping three-foot rolls of water and ice shield.  The deck boards are being repaired as needed, but (so far) the builders have found the decking to be in “pretty good shape”.  Once this process is completed on the west side, the same steps of removal-repair-coverage will be done on the east.

On that side of the building, the old gutters and cornices have already been removed and the carpentry work done to support the new ones.  Dan Behlen (lead craftsman for Grand River Builders) has been busy in the shop, custom fabricating and painting all the new copper metalwork.  This new metalwork is an important part of the project, as the old flashing and gutters were pitted and rusted. Complementing the beauty of the slate tiles, the new metalwork will significantly improve the appearance of the church.

Week 5 update: March 9

When is a “surprise” not all that surprising?

When you are doing a major project on an historic building like Westminster! Indeed, complications are expected—and so it was not all that surprising when one popped up this week.

Here’s the situation:

As the third tie rod—the one over the chancel, piano, and pulpit—was being installed, it became evident that the exterior end of the truss it was being affixed to has partially rotted away. Moreover, the section of the wall upon which that rotting truss rests is crumbling.

This damage requires a permanent restructuring—not a temporary bandage—to stabilize the roof.

Grand River Builders and JDH Engineering have described this unexpected complication as an “interesting challenge,” and are collaborating to address it. We’re thankful for their years of experience and expertise!

Here’s the plan:

During the week of March 10, scaffolding will be erected in the southwest corner of the sanctuary (see the picture). Strong braces will then be put in place to support the truss while repair work is completed.

Unlike the scaffolding that was erected each week for the installation of the tie rods, which has been removed for each Sunday service, this support system will need to be there until the repairs are made.

How messy? How long? How much?

Right now, we don’t know for sure—and that’s not surprising. We’ll have more information as repairs proceed.

Meanwhile, work continued this week on the fourth tie rod over the organ, which is now in place, as well as on vents to improve air flow in the attic.

Week 4 update: March 2

To summarize, “So far, so good”—meaning that as yet, there have been no Big Ugly Surprises and the work is proceeding on schedule.

Two of the tie rods are in place, and careful work being done on the third.  Reactions have ranged from, “What ARE those things?” to ”I guess they don’t look too bad” to “Tie rods–they are a beautiful thing.” (note: that last comment from Ralph Den Hartigh, the structural engineer)  They are primed with a reddish-brown paint, which will not necessarily be their final color.

As Chandler mentioned last week, and you can see from the plastic wrappings, the organ is being given a short vacation. Some of the more delicate pipes have been removed and are being stored safely out of harm’s way. Of course, music will continue to be an important part of worship, and the organ will return, refreshed and ready to go, in a just a few weeks.

Re-doing the roof has presented an opportunity to make other important repairs and improvements.  On Monday night, the Trustees approved funds to vent the eaves, which will increase the flow of air through the attic of the sanctuary. Adding insulation is also under consideration. With or without more insulation, better ventilation will help to prevent ice dams and the damage they can cause to the roof, gutters and metalwork.

Week 3 update: February 23

 If you were fortunate enough to speak with Marcie Beck or Ron Bouwense after the 8:30 or 11:00 service on Sunday, February 16, you could observe examples of a tie rod and copper snow guard piece that will be used in our roof construction. As you can see from one of the pictures on the west side of the building, the snow guard will be extremely important in keeping ice and snow off the end of our new slate roof.

The tie rods were delivered this past Monday, and Grand River Builders were to have had the first one installed early in the week. They are talking with the engineers about the second and third rods because the installation may be a little more complicated.

Although the physical appearance does not look all that different in week #3, we are happy to report that work “behind the scenes” is going smoothly and progress is being made in a timely manner. Jim Lauck (organ restoration expert from Kalamazoo) continues to consult and has assured us that the roof project is being executed with great care to protect our magnificent organ.

Week 2 update: February 16

Work is continuing outside. Meanwhile, scaffolding has been erected in the balcony and on the main floor of the sanctuary. The trusses are very thick, so to install the tie rods, the craftsmen will drill in from the outside, and out from the inside. On Thursday, February 13, Jim Lauck (organ restoration expert) drove in from Kalamazoo to provide further guidance about protecting the organ.

Week 1 update: February 9

Work began this week. The hardy guys from Grand River Builders are spending much of the week working outside the building. The scaffolding there will enable them to access the exterior ends of the trusses in preparation for the installation of the steel plates, which will anchor the tie rods.

Several of the stained glass windows are being covered with protective plexiglass. That covering is not be permanent, but will remain in place until after the completion of the exterior work in the fall. If the weather cooperates, they should be able to finish the outdoor work sometime this week and move inside, where work will begin in the balcony.

The introductory letter

On January 10, we mailed a letter to the congregation announcing explaining work we’ll be doing in our sanctuary this winter, spring, and summer. We invite you to read the letter and check back here after our annual meeting on Sunday, February 2, for more details.

Read the letter