A contractor working on Milwaukee’s Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church before it caught fire last week did not obtain permits for a roof renovation, city officials say.
Milwaukee-based Langer Roofing and Sheet Metal was renovating the roof of the church before the building burst into flames last week, causing some $17 million in damage to the historic church. The official cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
But Langer did not secure permits from the city of Milwaukee necessary to do the work, said Department of Neighborhood Services Spokeswoman Christina Klose in an email.
“We are currently investigating the building conditions to make a determination of what type of orders are appropriate to issue,” Klose said. “This can sometimes take up to several weeks.”
The fire at Trinity broke out May 15 on the roof of the church — where Langer had been working earlier that day. Milwaukee Fire Department officials said last week that a heating tool likely sparked the blaze, which incinerated the roof of the 140-year-old church, caused a spire to collapse into the shell of the building and consumed a priceless pipe organ, which itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fire officials said the fire likely started accidentally.
Mark Langer, president of Langer Roofing, said in a statement Monday that roof repair or replacement projects have “generally” not required a city permit. In a statement Friday, the company said it is cooperating with agencies investigating the fire, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“However, the city has been a trusted partner for years, and if they believe a permit was needed in this case, we will work with them immediately to determine if a mistake was made,” Langer said. “We are continuing to cooperate fully with the city and the Milwaukee Fire Department as they investigate the fire at Trinity church, and our hearts are with the Trinity church family during this difficult time.”
Tim Askin, senior planner for Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, said the agency requires contractors to take out permits for nearly all work on the exterior of buildings that the city designates as historic properties.
Approvals for minor projects can be approved in a matter of days, while plans for more extensive work must come before Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, which meets monthly.
“On a locally designated building projects like Trinity Lutheran, anytime there is some kind of exterior alteration, a permit is required,” Askin said.
Church officials said last week that they plan to rebuild the historic building in some form, though the scale of reconstruction will depend on how much the congregation receives from its insurance provider and how much money it is able to raise.
Jonah Burakowski, missions and human care director at Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod, South Wisconsin District declined to comment on the missing permit for roof work at Trinity. He said insurance companies and fire officials expect to complete an investigation into the fire in the next week.