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.


First United Methodist Church

Overlooking the shore of Corpus Christi Bay in Corpus Christi, Texas stands the historic First United Methodist Church with its towering steeple and monument to Jesus, his arms outstretched to the bay at the helm of a fishing boat. When the 53-year-old masonry and concrete church started to show signs of weathering, Western Specialty Contractors – San Antonio, Texas branch was called in to assess the damage and restore the landmark church's facade.


Due to its limited accessibility, Western crews and facility engineer Manny Gallardo had to get creative with how they surveyed the damage to the church's 150-foot-tall steeple.


“We used a telescope and stood across the street to try and view all of the different concrete spalls in the tower. We were actually able to gather a large amount of data by using a drone with a video camera to fly around the building and get a close-up of all the conditions,” said San Antonio Branch Manager Dan Wicht.


After the assessment was complete, Western determined that 100 percent of the mortar on the church's brick facade (approx. 11,850 square feet) would need to be replaced, concrete would need to be repaired, and all sealants would need to be replaced with silicone. Additionally, the original steel brick ties supporting the masonry steeple had completely rusted away due to the salty air and were no longer providing support to the brick wall. Western crews would have to install 2,000 Helifix 316 stainless steel wall anchors to re-anchor the brick wall to the steeple's substrate.


Due to limited access to the tower's upper sections and the amount of time and money it would take just to gain access to the tower, church officials elected to use all top-of-the line materials to prolong the life of the steeple's restoration work.


“The new anchors are made of all top-of-the-line stainless steel materials and are expected to have a lifespan of over 100 years, which is a must for a building located across the street from a bay,” said Wicht.


Once the tower was made structurally sound, Western crews performed a complete restoration on the church which included removing and replacing all exterior sealants, performing 7,500 square feet of tuckpointing, replacing any broken or cracked bricks and performing detailed concrete repairs. In order to maintain the church's historical integrity, Western crews created custom mortar and concrete colors using Cathedral Stone Products, Inc. to match all new materials to the original work.


After the main restoration work was complete, Western crews took great care to power wash and clean the entire church's facade using an electric power-washer with a max PSI of 1,600, so as to not damage the existing brick and concrete. Application of a protective sealant to the entire church completed the five-month restoration project for Western.


Engineering support on the project was provided by David Day with CASA Engineering of Harlingen, TX.



Inglewood Mausoleum

Shortly after the Inglewood Mausoleum was constructed, water had begun to leak through the walkways and would drip from the ceiling into the underground crypts below. After water testing and performing inspections, Western Specialty Contractors and McCleskey Construction Company determined that the culprit was the failure of the existing split slab membrane. Western was awarded the contract for the application of a new hot applied waterproofing system over the structural slab, a total area of approximately 8,000 square feet.

Western worked closely with McCleskey and the Inglewood Park Cemetery to work around funeral processions without causing noise or distractions, and specific schedules were developed prior to beginning the work. Following demolition of the topping slab, the existing coating was removed and the substrate was prepared by mechanically grinding and shot blasting the surfaces.


Sisters of the Third Order

Western Specialty Contractors recently completed a roof replacement project at the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis Motherhouse in East Peoria, IL.

The project scope of work called for the removal of the existing roof membrane and insulation. The roof deck was then inspected and replaced as needed. Two layers of one and a half-inch insulation board was applied with fast curing 100 adhesive. Next, a 0.60 mil TPO fully adhered membrane was installed along with new TPO coated metal at the roof perimeters.

The owners were furnished with a 20 year warranty.


Shrine of Saint Joseph

The uniquely designed Shrine of Saint Joseph is a 19th century treasure. It has withstood the test of time. The property was donated by the Biddle family as a place of worship for the German community. It was built in 1864 and when it was expanded to its present size, was the largest church in the Saint Louis area. Many say it is the church of miracles. One miracle is that the church is still open. It suffered from a loss of parishioners due to a declining neighborhood. The area changed from residential to business, primarily the trucking industry. The Shrine of Saint Joseph’s is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Due to what some call the modern-day heroes of the Shrine of Saint Joseph, “The Friends of the Shrine of Saint Joseph,” renovation of the shrine began in 1979. After years of interior renovation and some exterior work, it was decided that the next project to be undertaken was the restoration of the severely deteriorated stone work on the twin towers.

The project was intended to have all deteriorated stone patching finished with Jahn restoration mortar (Cathedral Stone.) Bid as requested, Western Specialty Contractors' St. Louis Masonry branch did submit a voluntary alternate to replace some areas with large stone soaps (not complete depth replacement.) This alternate was a cost savings to the Shrine and the Board of Directors, along with the architect, were very receptive to have natural stone reinstalled in as many locations as possible. This work was awarded to Western’s masonry branch in 2006.

Coordination with the church was imperative, as this work was to be done on towers that were located at each side of the main entry of the church. The entry could not be closed at any time, due to weekly Mass services and special church services; such as weddings and funerals.

The scope of Western’s work included restoration cleaning 15,380 square feet of brick and stone on the towers (Prosoco Heavy Duty Restoration Cleaner.) Following the cleaning, the demolition phase was started. This consisted of taking the deteriorated stone back to sound material or a minimum of two inches. All the stone on both towers was included in the scope of work. The majority of the work was installation of new stone. The total count was 1,683 individual, specially marked pieces with an average weight of 173 lbs. Western employees hoisted up the new stone and with epoxy, stainless steel pins and specially designed anchors, the new stones were installed in place. This was a tedious task due to the different configuration of architectural stone bands and profiles.

The remainder of deteriorated stone was patched using the Jahn stone patch material with color approved by the architect. This work primarily took place at areas where the stone were too large to receive new stone (console units.) Jahn was also used in the replica of the damaged and missing fleur-de-lis. Western patched the best salvaged fleur-de-lis unit, made rubber castings from this unit and then molds from the castings. From these molds, replicas were made. A total of 400 (five gallon) units of Jahn had been used by the end of the project.

After the stone repairs were completed, many different orientations of a 16 ounce lead coated copper flashing was installed. The flashing was placed on all horizontal stone exposed to the elements. Following the copper flashing installation, bird spike proofing was applied to any horizontal shelf which would allow birds to land.

The project with the Shrine of Saint Joseph was completed in April, 2008.

First Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church is a 100-year-old historic building in downtown Atlanta. The church congregation was first organized in 1848. The present church was dedicated in 1919. Age and exposure to the elements caused deterioration for the exterior facade. A number of groups working in concert made up the restoration team. Western Specialty Contractors was selected as the masonry restoration specialty contractor.

The exterior masonry restoration consisted of sandstone patching throughout the sanctuary, using custom blended M70 Jahn patching mortar. Prior to the project commencement, a mock-up training session was held by Cathedral Stone to properly train and certify all field personnel associated with the project. The process involved chipping out cracked or deteriorated stone to a solid, sound substrate. The face of the stone was then rebuilt to look like the original material. The project included 100% tuckpointing of all the stone-to-stone mortar joints. Also included was miscellaneous brick repointing, caulking of all window and door perimeters, window repairs and painting, lead abatement, pressure washing and the application of a penetrating sealer. Bell Tower louvers were fabricated and installed. The work also included 4,750 patched stones and 31 cubic feet of stone replacement.

The project was completed on time and within the original schedule. Stuart Rogers was the onsite project manager, Brad Tabler was the project superintendent and Mark Owens the lead foreman.