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Minn. school repairs original clay tile roof

A worker installs copper flashing on the roof of the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn. The private Catholic schools $900,000 roofing project is expected to be completed next month. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

A worker installs copper flashing on the roof of the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn. The private Catholic school's $900,000 roofing project is expected to be completed next month. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — The Academy of Holy Angels is getting a new halo.

A large construction crane towers over Holy Angels’ vintage brick building in Richfield, where yellow-vested crews are on pace to complete a $900,000 roofing project by mid-August.

It’s not a small investment for the private Catholic school, but assistant principal Mark Melhorn said the project was needed to protect the building from interior water damage.

Eight decades of wear and tear were taking their toll. Some of the roof’s clay tiles were beginning to crack and some leakage was evident after heavy rainfall, according to the school.

Despite the recent problems, the school got its money’s worth out of the original lid.

“The main part of the building was built in 1931 and the roof has not been replaced since then,” Melhorn said.

The school was in luck in at least one respect: The company that provided the original clay tile in 1931, Ohio-based Ludowici Roof Tile, is still in business and was able to provide replacement tiles.

The replacements are a bit larger than the originals, which makes them easier to install and thus reduces labor costs. And “the new glazing and color is very similar to the old — about as close as we can get,” Melhorn said.

Doug Vinge, Holy Angels’ longtime facilities manager, said the main concern was the roof over the chapel. The roofing contractor, Delco, which has experience with clay tile roofs, has done a good job of keeping the roof watertight during construction, Melhorn said.

“Because of the weather we have, they seal everything up overnight,” he said. “They have done a great job of getting it sealed up and watertight before they leave for the night.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet established the Academy of Holy Angels as a boarding school for girls in 1877. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the school opened its current building at a former cornfield site in Richfield.

Students lived upstairs with no air conditioning and limited ventilation.

According to the school’s website, the English Gothic structure, built for $600,000, was “hailed as one of the most attractive educational institutions in the Middle West.”

Holy Angels went on to make a number of other building improvements, including a $2 million, year-round athletic complex (1996), a refurbished chapel (2000) and a 70,000-square-foot addition (2003), according to the school’s website.

Proceeds from a $5 million capital campaign paid for the 2003 addition, and a money-raising effort is under way to help pay for the new roof.

Melhorn said private efforts to raise money aren’t easy in this economic environment, but “it is going well. It was something we definitely had to do with the age of the roof.”

The roof’s original tiles were designed to last 100 years, Vinge said. But whoever made that estimate may not have been thinking about Minnesota’s harsh climate, which can exact a mean toll on even the best roofs.
Vinge said the building is going to be around longer than he is, and he wants to maintain it for future generations.

By U.S. standards, the building may be getting up there in years. But compared with many structures in Europe, it’s “just a baby,” he said.

Other maintenance concerns will always be there, including tuck-pointing, pipes and plumbing. And there are still parts of the roof that need to be addressed in the not-too-distant future, including the portion over the school’s theater.

But the new roof will be in good shape for decades to come.

“You should not have to touch that roof for 80 more years,” Vinge said.

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