McLean County Museum of History

Western Specialty Contractors Replaces Leaking Roof in Bloomington, IL
McLean County Museum of History, Helps Save Historic Relics

Extensive water damage from an aging roof threatened to destroy treasured artifacts housed at the McLean County Museum of History in Downtown Bloomington, IL. The water intrusion resulted from a 30-year-old, damaged roof that had exceeded its useful life span by more than five years, allowing rain to leak through the roof and insulation, clay tile, and mortar down into the building’s ceilings and interior rooms.

The nationally accredited, the award-winning museum occupies the former McLean County Courthouse, an American Renaissance-style structure built between 1900 and 1903. The building features a limestone-clad facade and solid masonry construction with a steeply sloping roof connecting the built-in gutter to the clocktower dome rising from its center. The old roof consisted of a 4-ply, built-up asphalt roof over one-inch perlite insulation mopped to the clay tile deck.

Although the McLean County maintenance staff had repaired the roof over the years, it no longer functioned properly and needed to be replaced immediately, along with the historic building’s drainage system. According to reports, as much as 14 gallons of water had leaked into the building after heavy spring rains, causing extensive damage. Although the water had damaged no artifacts, one area of the museum had to be closed off, and an office was relocated due to the leaking roof.

In 2020, the McLean County Board agreed to hire Scharnett Architects & Associates of Bloomington to perform architectural and engineering services to replace the building’s roof and improve its drainage system. Western Specialty Contractors’ Peoria Roofing Branch was contracted to replace the historic building’s damaged roof, with work on
the project was starting in May 2021.

Western’s crew removed the old roof and replaced it with a Firestone UltraPly TPO roofing system consisting of an 80 mil white membrane over gypsum coverboard, Polyisocyanurate insulation, and vapor barrier directly over the clay tile deck.

“The entire job was very challenging. We had to stage materials on the grounds as we needed them because the old clay tile deck could not be overloaded,” said Western Specialty Contractors Peoria Assistant Branch Manager Jared Osterman. “Tearing off the old roof every day was equally difficult because we had to crane materials down and up from the street as we progressed.”

The architect designed the new TPO roof system to go above and beyond what the manufacturer recommended, with double membrane thick valleys and ridges and built-in gutters lined with TPO and terminated with a liquid flashing, three-course step. The liquid flashing was use in place of counterflashing to minimize the use of mechanical fasteners in the historic structure. The job also required a 30-year, 80 MPH Firestone Roof warranty, including hail, cut, and puncture resistance.

Western’s Springfield, IL Branch also participated in the project by grinding out reglets, reworking the clay tiles around the drain replacements, and cleaning and sealing limestone at the gutter edge.

Performing a successful mock system pull test to ensure the new roof’s viability and strength, Western completed the roof replacement in September 2021. The museum had been closed to visitors during the roof replacement project while its restrooms were remodeled and its lighting fixtures replaced.

Julie Emig, the museum’s Executive Director, noted that the staff was relieved when the roof was restored. “The quality of Western Specialty Contractors’ work, especially given the complexity of this project, was outstanding. We no longer
worry that the next rainstorm could damage our award-winning collections and exhibits.”

Monogram Building

Western Specialty Contractors – St. Louis Masonry Restoration Branch recently completed a $1.2 million facade restoration of the historic Monogram Building at 1706 Washington Ave. in Downtown St. Louis.

Developer Michael Knight, a partner at Revive Capital Development of Kansas City, MO, converted the nine-story brick and terra cotta building, renamed Monogram on Washington, into 168 modern, luxury apartments (112 one-bedroom, 32 two-bedroom and 24 studio), complete with a roof-top pool. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, originally opened in 1910 as a millinery factory and warehouse in the city's former garment district.

Western Specialty Contractors first contracted with St. Louis-based general contractor Paric Corporation in November 2016 to begin work on the building's west elevation while abatement work was getting started. This first phase included installation of 28 new window openings with new lintels and precast sills, 30% brick tuck pointing, pressure washing the entire facade and caulking all window perimeters. Western crews also cut an opening in the south elevation for a buck hoist to be installed. This first phase was completed in September 2017.

A second contract was issued to Western for additional facade restoration work to the north, south and east elevations. Western used two suspended scaffolding and four masons to complete the work in October 2017. The work included:

  • South elevation – tuck pointing 30% of brick joints and 25% of terra cotta joints, caulking all window perimeters and pressure washing
  • North and east elevations – tuck pointing 25% of terra cotta joints and all brick joints, pressure washing, and replacing 10 pieces of missing or damaged terra cotta with Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) replicas

Paric, under the direction of the owner, had Western provide a 135-foot aerial lift so that the jobsite foreman, with assistance from the engineer, could inspect all elevations. Subsequently, Western's scope of work increased to include tuck pointing all brick and terra cotta joints on the south, north and east elevations; plus replacing an additional 15 pieces of terra cotta with FRP.

With the scope of work more than doubling for Western's crews, the change proved to be a challenge to the overall schedule for the building's new roof and pool installation. Western was able to meet the original schedule by adding two swing stages and six more masons working 10-hour shifts, seven days a week. The final facade restoration work was completed in February 2018.


Lehmann Building at Missouri Botanical Gardens

A variety of challenges had to be overcome to successfully complete the replacement of the roof on the Lehmann Building. The Lehmann Building is a National Historic Landmark and the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation. It is situated in the middle of the Missouri Botanical Gardens and houses executive staff and historical herbarium samples, some of which are centuries old and extinct. Consequently, there was no room for error in the execution of this project.

The scope of work specified the removal of the two existing asphalt roofs and installation of a new, fully adhered 80 mil TPO membrane roofing system. To further protect the highly sensitive building contents of the Lehmann Building, new internal overflow drains and piping were installed. Coordination of this work with the plumbing and ceiling contractor was paramount in keeping the building occupants content. The project also utilized an architectural sheet metal company to match the existing custom metal edging profile.

The first challenge Western crews faced on the project was maintaining the tight schedule. Phase one of the project had to be completed before the decorative lighting for the annual “Garden Glow” could be installed in certain areas. In order to shorten the critical path of the schedule, Western had to fast track the submittal process and start immediate procurement of the materials. After the material was in place it was a matter of providing sufficient labor and overtime until the deadline was met.

Access was another major concern. A 15-ton truck crane and half of the roofing material had to be hauled 700 feet through a walking trail. Significant precautions needed to be taken to protect the plant life in the garden from damage by the equipment and compaction of the soil. Western worked with Missouri Botanical Gardens to evaluate which trees needed to be trimmed to make room for the material. The crane and each forklift load of material had to be carefully escorted to make sure our material handling equipment stayed on the walking path and did not bump into overhead branches.

This was a very challenging project for everyone on the Western team. The elevated level of skill in workmanship and communication exercised by our field crews made this project a success in all aspects. The project was completed on time and within budget with zero change orders due to the accuracy of the specifications and drawings.

At the end of the day, it is very rewarding to have taken part in helping preserve plants and science for the future generations to enjoy.


University of Kansas – Allen Fieldhouse

The University of Kansas Allen Fieldhouse has hosted many legendary games in it’s long history. Age and exposure to the elements had caused a number of issues to it’s limestone and brick exterior. The eastern part of Kansas has a wet and cold climate. This contributed to a build up of mold and pollution on the building’s exterior.

The old building was in need of renovation. The Ward family of Kansas City pledged more than $7 million to help with the rehab. The total scope of work involved new windows, lights, a new court, stair towers, fire alarms, sprinklers, and electrical systems in addition to the exterior work.

Western Specialty Contractors' Kansas City Branch received a contract to handle the exterior work. Working from swing stages, the Western crew applied a Prosoco’s Enviro Klean® BioKlean™ solution, allowed it to dwell on the surface for twenty minutes, and then rinsed it off with high-pressure water. A neutralizing agent was then applied. This mildly acidic afterwash not only neutralized the cleaner, but it helped to brighten the limestone.

To help keep the buildng clean, Western treated the exterior with Prosoco Sure Klean® Weather Seal H40, a masonry-strengthening water repellent. The penetrating breathable treatment keeps water out of the stone without changing it’s appearance.

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.




When the main cell house building at the historic Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was constructed in 1910-1912, prison workers mixed salt water from the surrounding San Francisco Bay and brick rubble in the concrete support beams. Coupled with the island's extreme weather conditions, the large, cast-in-place concrete support beams in the original Citadel and basement shower room areas that support the main cellblock structures began to deteriorate and fail, posing major structural damage to the historic building.

The Citadel was part of the original structure and dates back to the Civil War era. Its masonry walls support the massive concrete beams carrying the load of the penitentiary located above. The shower room is located on the same level as the Citadel, but is separated by earthen fill and has walk-in access at a lower level of the structure.

The general contractor on the project hired Western Specialty Contractors – San Francisco, CA Branch for the $3.6 million structural repair project after the original contract team defaulted on the job, pushing the project over a year behind schedule. Restoration work on the structure was also required to bring the structure up to California's seismic codes for earthquakes. Once a contract was approved, Western crews quickly mobilized to the job site to complete the job.

Western's scope of work focused on the Citadel and shower room areas and included replacing beams and masonry that support the cell house floor, installing engineered shoring, repairing the cell house structural floor, performing non-structural patching and masonry, repairing salvageable beams to protect them from further deterioration and installing a cathodic protection system to prevent deterioration of the metal support. All work on the project would be completed at night to avoid disrupting public tours of the historic landmark during the day.

Like any historic restoration project, there were challenges. One of the main challenges faced by Western's crews was controlling the amount of dust generated during the demolition process.

“Dust control was a major challenge, especially considering the amount of work that was happening in such a small area with poor circulation,” said San Francisco Branch Manager Tony Lieder. “When Western took over the project, we spent approximately two to three weeks just cleaning the site and removing debris left by the previous contractor. Often the dust was so bad, each shift would have to stop working about an hour early every night just to clean up. One of our first tasks was to find a way to engineer out this issue and increase productivity.”

Western crews found a two-tier solution for controlling the dust – creating mini-containment zones and using large, customized air scrubbers.

“When performing the demo, we created mini-containment zones in each location, as well as used localized air scrubbers and vacuum attachments for our equipment when appropriate. For the main work areas outside the containment areas, we obtained several large, customized air scrubbers that had a much greater capacity than what was commercially available. The improvements in the dust control were dramatic.”

Another challenge on the project was transporting materials to and from the island. The only available transportation option was a barge.

“Our materials had to be light enough for our on-site forklift to handle and we commonly had to break down pallets of material in order to lighten the loads or partially fill dumpsters when returning debris,” Lieder said. “Loading and unloading the barge also depended on the schedule of the tides. If the tide was too low, we couldn't load or unload equipment. If we ever had equipment breakdowns, we would have to scramble during the day to get everything resolved and back to the boat that night.”

Despite the challenges, Western crews were able to successfully complete the project within nine months.