First Presbyterian Church

Historic renovations present significant challenges even in predictable situations. In early 2017, Western Specialty Contractors completed an unexpected and challenging repair when lightning struck the bell tower of First Presbyterian Church in El Dorado, AR. The blast was so powerful, a piece of the steeple was recovered a block away.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the steeple features intricate terra cotta masonry dating back to the church’s original 1926 construction. Western Specialty Contractors had already restored masonry on the historic building, which is why the church leadership sought out the specialty contractor’s guidance on the delicate repair. Western’s branch offices in Little Rock, AR, and Dallas, TX led the project, leaning on their deep knowledge of both historic renovation and this unique building.

Preserving as much of the original steeple as possible was a priority for everyone involved on this project. Western crews looked beyond the immediate work to select the best processes and materials to help the church maintain its building in the future.

In addition to shattering the steeple, the lightning strike damaged the brick support structure underneath. The team removed all damaged parts of the brick support and rebuilt it,
matching it as closely as possible to the original.

After conducting a thorough search and rescue mission of the terra cotta rubble, the team evaluated each piece. Any piece that could be used again made its way back into the steeple.

To fill in the missing spaces, Western workers used GFRC. They then pinned all the pieces to the brick support and coated them to match the original surface. The whole process required meticulous measurements of both the existing steeple and the recovered pieces.

A 120-foot articulating boom lift allowed the team to set the pieces on the street first, then reassemble the steeple on the bell tower. Western set up barricades around the bell tower and the pedestrian areas below in order to allow church access for worshipers during the entire construction process.

The project was completed on time, within budget and safely.


Burney Institute

Established in 1854 near the banks of the Red River in a small town called Lebanon, Oklahoma, sat an abandoned, two-story brick structure that once served as a boarding school for Chickasaw Nation girls, an orphanage, then as a manual labor school where Chickasaw children learned agriculture, horticulture, homemaking, sewing, knitting, cooking and housekeeping.  Steeped in Chickasaw history, the structure, named the Burney Institute, had fallen into disrepair when it was abandoned some time after 1910.


In 2014-15, Chickasaw Nation officials funded a complete restoration of the historic landmark for possible use as a museum. Western Specialty Contractors – Dallas, Texas Branch was hired to tuckpoint the structure's entire brick facade, as well as re-build interior and exterior brick walls and corners, and provide structural anchoring at the cracks.


Restoration of the building's exterior was a challenge for Western's crews in terms of specifying modern materials that were compatible with materials used in the original construction. It was discovered that fine sands from the nearby Red River were used to make the original mortar and the bricks themselves. Western used modern technology to determine the best mortar mix for the job.


“We sent the mortar to a testing facility in Iowa to determine its exact makeup,” said Dallas Branch Manager Ben Grandbois. “Once we knew what it was made out of, we worked closely with a concrete and mortar company and the architect to find the most compatible material to use. We ended up using a Type O mortar as a match.”


Due to a limited supply of bricks, Western crews got creative and used salvaged bricks from the building's interior walls to match the existing exterior facade, as well as bricks taken from footings beneath the main floor that were replaced with structural steel supports.


Multiple cracks toward the bottom of the building caused by more than 100 years of ground settling were also repaired using helical anchors set into epoxy at angles to stitch the cracks prior to any wall repairs. Using an IBIX grout pump allowed Western crews to increase production on the massive tuckpointing job by 200%.


Experience and a little ingenuity by Western enabled crews to create the ever-so-slight concave finish on the mortar joints to match the building's original finish.


“The finish of the original mortar joints did not allow for the typical striking we see most commonly today,” said Grandbois. “In order to maintain the historical significance and receive approval from the Chickasaw Nation, we performed many different mock-ups. Having a very seasoned foreman on the job helped tremendously as we tried many unique approaches. We eventually settled with a flush struck joint, followed by a light rake when the mortar had cured to an exact hardness.”


Western was able to complete the project within 14 months, on time and within budget.  The project was completed in April, 2015.



American Excelsior

Western Specialty Contractors – Dallas, Texas Branch recently used a lot of ingenuity and a little paint matching skills to repair a Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) wall at the American Excelsior facility in Arlington, TX. American Excelsior manufactures and distributes products for packaging, cushioning, engineered foam specialties, erosion control and a wide variety of engineered wood fibers.


It was discovered that a beam at American Excelsior's manufacturing facility was putting too much pressure into a CMU wall which had busted out the top course of CMU block. Originally thinking that the exterior wall was made entirely of CMU block, Western crews soon learned that the CMU wall transitioned into a brick masonry wall at the interior. Western crews had to think of a new solution that would allow them to complete the project within budget, provided strength and blended with the existing appearance.


The new solution was to tear down the damaged CMU wall and install a fully reinforced pilaster. Western crews tied the new pilaster to the new CMU wall by installing helical masonry anchors embedded in epoxy. The final touch was color-matching the CMU wall with the existing wall color, making the repairs virtually unnoticeable.



Southern Methodist University – Law Quad

Western proved that doing work the old fashioned way, by hand, is still sometimes the best way. Western crews completed a maintenance and repair project for the Southern Methodist University (SMU) School of Law in Dallas, Texas which required workers to use hand sanding instead of machinery to complete the job. Concrete around the quadrant area had begun to deteriorate due to steel rails being embedded directly into the concrete. Water eventually reached the steel, which caused it to expand and damage the surrounding concrete. The steel rails were sanded to ensure bonding and aesthetic longevity and were sealed to prevent future damage.

The scope of work also included recaulking the walkway and steps, making epoxy injection repairs to the concrete cracks, repairing metal expansion joints, cleaning and repainting steel joint brackets, making overhead concrete spall repairs, repainting and caulking the handrail, removing stains and repairing stone, replacing the corroded hollow metal frame doors, and cleaning the pavement and steps.

The university required that the area be kept completely open at all times for students to walk through, and that noise and dust be kept at a minimum so nearby classes would not be disrupted. Western used strategic planning to allow a steady flow of pedestrian traffic through the construction zone and utilized hand sanding, instead of sand blasting or power washing, to keep the dust and noise levels down.

The strategic planning between Western and SMU was one of the most important aspects of the project. Western effectively planned ahead and mobilized quickly to take advantage of the month-long holiday break to do all of the heavy work. If this work had been done while school was in session, the walkway would have needed to be closed. Therefore, noise and dust was kept to a minimum by planning ahead and hand sanding when school resumed.
– Teddy Williams
Western Assistant Regional Business Development Manager

Western crews were able to successfully complete the project within two months.


Phoenix Midtown Apartments

Noted as one of the largest projects in Western’s Dallas branch history, the Phoenix Midtown exterior envelope repair lasted for more than four years. The project consisted of the removal and replacement of the entire exterior facade.

Phase one of the project began with Western scaffolding two locations of the buildings, this enabled removal of the exterior stucco and revealed the building’s conditions.

After many areas of the project were exposed, the waterproofing consultant reviewed the existing waterproofing/flashing systems and concluded that they were at fault for the deterioration of OSB substrate and the existing leaks that the owner was experiencing.

What began as a limited repair waterproofing and investigation project in late 2004, resulted in the discovery of extensive damage to the building’s wood frame structure due to excessive water infiltration through the stucco veneer.

The project consisted of two phases; phase one was primarily focused on the discovery/investigation of existing conditions and repairs to the south end of courtyard four.

Phase two consisted of complete replacement of exterior wall veneer and wood framing. Western Specialty Contractors was contracted to start work for the second phase in December, 2005.

The scope of work for Western was to remove 100% of the stucco facade, 100% of OSB sheathing, and all damaged framing lumber (nearly all), as well as install an entirely new waterproofing/flashing system and a stucco finished cement panel facade.

The entire building’s exterior was also repainted. This included all cement panels, all metal trim, and exposed concrete at the building’s multi-level garage. In addition to this work, extensive floor repairs were required in the interior of the building at the exterior walls. Carpeting was pulled back, a concrete floor leveler was removed, exposing both damaged wood OSB decking and floor trusses.

It was then determined, the wood floor trusses would need to be reinforced on a room by room basis. Rotten wood sheathing also had to be replaced. These floor repairs varied in the extent of damage in each room, ranging anywhere from two feet from the exterior wall, and in some cases the entire room’s floor was repaired.

When completed, approximately 150,000+ square feet of building exterior was replaced along with portions of the interior floor of 400+ apartments. The project required as many as 100 skilled Western employees at one time, from various trades to complete this massive repair project.


Continental Building

The historic Continental Building is located in Downtown Dallas. It opened in 1948 and was originally named the Mercantile Commerce Building, home to Mercantile Commerce Bank. It was a threestory building built over a four-story parking garage, the first underground garage in Dallas.

In 1958, eight additional floors were added and the name was changed to the Mercantile Continental Building. Later, the Bank moved to another Headquarters Building and the building became vacant. Over the past couple of years, it has been converted into loft apartments.

The owner of the property is Forest City Residential Group. The General Contractor for the conversion is Andres Construction. Western Specialty Contractors/NTW was selected for the exterior restoration and waterproofing work.

Western’s scope of work addressed several items. Crews recaulked 100% of the building exterior brick masonry, precast and window perimeters along with wet sealing the exterior and interior of window systems. Chemical anchors were also installed at selected precast panels and miscellaneous brick repointing was completed at various locations. The entire building was cleaned and a protective sealer was applied to all precast.

Travertine coping stones at the fourth floor were removed and a waterproofing membrane was installed on the exterior deck. The coping stones were then reinstalled. Other work items consisted of below grade waterproofing of air shafts and a new elevator pit. Hotapplied rubberized asphalt waterproofing was installed on both sidewalk areas at the interior spa.