Restoring the Saskatchewan Legislative Dome Is a Labor of Love

The Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina was originally completed in 1912. The structure had undergone deterioration due to poor drainage around the dome, and a restoration project was initiated to repair the masonry and restore the copper dome. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

“At the end of the day, why do we go to cities?” asks Philip Hoad. “We go to cities to look at their beautiful old buildings. We don’t generally go to look at their skyscrapers. It’s the old building that gets our minds and hearts working. When you go to a city and look at these old buildings intermingled with new buildings—that’s what gives a city life.”

Hoad is with Empire Restoration Inc., headquartered in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. He’s been restoring historic buildings for some 30 years, and when he found out about the project to renovate the dome on the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, he knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “The architect put out a pre-qualification across Canada, and four firms were successful. We were one of them,” he remembers. “Then we ended up securing the tender bid. I’ll never forget it because I did the tender estimate just after a hernia operation in my dressing gown. It was really a project I won’t forget.”

The building was originally constructed in Regina, Saskatchewan, between 1908 and 1912, and it serves as the seat of government for the province and houses the legislative assembly. Designed by architects Edward and William Sutherland Maxwell of Montreal in a mix of English Renaissance and French Beaux-Arts styles, the building features ornate stone elements and unique decorative copper finishes that accent its iconic copper-clad dome. It is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and a Provincial Heritage Property, and is subject to strict regulations regarding materials and methods of repair.

Work on the dome was carried out in a fully enclosed and heated temporary structure that allowed crews to continue throughout the winter months. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

The structure has undergone some restoration work over the past 100 years, but in 2013, planning began for a conservation project designed to repair and restore the tower. The reasons for the project were twofold, according to Hoad. “First of all, the copper panels were blowing off, and somebody had re-secured them with face screws back in the ’60s or ’70s. But more importantly, the water was coming off the dome and damaging the stone below it. The dome was originally never designed with gutters, and then they later put gutters on, and these failed. So those were the two things that drove the project in the first place.”

Hoad knew the project would be challenging, but it he was confident that his company had the experience and passion to handle it. “These projects come along, for most of us, once in a lifetime,” he notes. “It’s the scale and the detail and the level of commitment that you need to restore an old building that sets us apart from, say, new construction. It’s not cookie-cutter. Everything is different, and you never know what you’re getting into—although with our experience, we’ve done so many old buildings we sort of know what we’re going to run into. All of the people who work for us love to work on these old buildings. It’s very satisfying at the end of it.”

The goals of the project were perfectly aligned with Hoad’s business philosophy. “When I start with an old building, I don’t want to change it,” he says. “It might look a little newer, but I want it to be the same as when we found it. I don’t want it to stand out as a brand-new building. We just want it to last another 100 years and to know that we’ve helped preserve it for future generations.”

The ornamental copper elements were restored and reset over the new copper panels. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

Repairing the Substructure

Work on the dome was more complicated than initially thought. During the pre-construction condition survey and assessment, additional problems were discovered by the conservation architect, Spencer R. Higgins of Toronto. “Once the architect had done all his work and surveyed the building, they also realized the original woodwork was not quite up to snuff,” Hoad explains. “Basically, much of the original wood framing was made up of old pallets. It was quite remarkable. So structurally, we had to re-frame the hips, which we call the ribs. We completely removed the old pallet framing and re-framed it. We also tried to straighten the slight twist in dome, but it wasn’t easy to do since it was a poured concrete structure underneath.”

New ribs were constructed out of Douglas fir plywood using a CNC machine from 3-D architectural drawings to create templates. It was also necessary to remove and replace approximately 40 percent of deteriorated wood deck on the concrete dome, with both the interior and exterior surfaces of the concrete being repaired by the general contractor on the project, PCL Construction Management of Regina. “Re-framing the ribs was quite a challenge,” notes Hoad. “Once the concrete deck was repaired, we screwed new Douglas fir roof boards into the repaired concrete dome, added an air vapor barrier, Roxul insulation, wood nailers and an additional layer of Douglas fir roof boards, with housewrap and asphalt saturated roofing felt as the underlayment system for all the new copper roofing and cladding that would follow.”

Internally drained stainless-steel gutters were installed at the base of the dome. The gutters were lined with sheet lead. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

After the masonry restoration was completed by RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons of Ottawa, Empire Restoration installed new gutters at the base of the dome. According to the architect’s design, heavy stainless-steel plate gutters were formed and then lined with sheet lead. Projecting stone cornice ledges were also covered in sheet lead.

Restoring the Copper Dome

The existing 16-ounce copper panels were all removed, and they were replaced with new 20-ounce panels recreated to match the original sizes and profiles. More than 20,000 square feet of copper panels were custom fabricated and installed. Great care was taken to carefully remove and restore decorative elements, including the copper garlands.

Decorative elements that could be saved were installed on new brass armatures. The dome is topped by a cupola and lantern, which were carefully restored. “The mantel on the very top, we didn’t strip that off,” Hoad notes. “We just replaced and repaired selective components, so that’s why you have a mix of old and new.”

Logistics at the job site were well coordinated. “Access was quite remarkable because PCL had erected a steel frame onto which we erected scaffolding, so the dome was right there in front of us,” Hoad notes.

Cornice sections were restored, and extensive sheet lead flashings were installed over stone cornices and ledges. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

When working on the dome itself, crew members had to be tied off with personal fall arrest systems, as it was possible to slip through gaps between the scaffold decks and the dome roof surface. Weather was not an issue, as the steel frame structure was totally enclosed with a heavy-duty insulated tarp system. “We had our own ventilation system, we had a heating system, we had electricity up there, we had pneumatic power—we basically had everything up there. PCL had it well set up for the various trades. There was a large crane on site to hoist all our materials up.”

Hoad cites the sheer size of the project as one of his greatest concerns. “The biggest challenge was just the scale of the project, being able to produce the amount of work necessary and get the job done in the prescribed time,” he says. “It was a lot of the same thing, albeit with some very complicated detailing. We had multiple skill sets on the site dealing with multiple materials and details.”

The project has won numerous awards, including a 2017 North American Copper in Architecture Award from the Copper Development Association. Hoad is proud of his company’s role in the project but relieved it is completed. “During it, I was at times tearing my hair out,” he recalls. “It was a very high-pressure project that lasted a long time. It was three or four days a week of constant men, materials, equipment, meetings, details, changes, extras, credits. From start to finish, it was two years of my life.”

The cupola and lantern at the top of the dome were repaired in situ. Photos: Ministry of Central Services, Government of Saskatchewan

Despite the pressure, Hoad found the work extremely satisfying. “What we are doing is permanent and built to last for future generations,” he says. “We’re using natural, traditional building materials of stone, wood, copper and other noble metals. That’s what drives me to love the industry and my job—because it’s permanent, sustainable and it’s for future generations.”

After all, it’s often the roof and flashings that play one of the most critical roles in fighting the elements of weather, notes Hoad. “Roofing and sheet metal deficiencies is where much of building damage and deterioration starts,” he says. “You can repair a masonry wall, but if you don’t stop it getting saturated, it’ll just deteriorate again in another few years. Regina was a good example of that. We’ve now provided great protection to these beautiful stone elements, allowing them to last another 100 years.”

TEAM

Conservation Architect: Spencer R. Higgins, Architect Incorporated, Toronto, Ontario, Higginsarchitect.com
General Contractor: PCL Construction Management, Regina, Saskatchewan, PCL.com
Sheet Metal Contractor: Empire Restoration Inc., Scarborough, Ontario, EmpireRestoration.com
Masonry Contractor: RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, RJWgem.com

MATERIALS

Copper: 20-ounce copper sheet metal
Wood Framing: Douglas fir
Insulation: Rockwool Rigid Insulation, Roxul, Roxul.com

About Chris King

Chris King is the editor in chief of Roofing magazine. He has covered the construction industry for 18 years, previously serving as editor of Roofing Contractor, managing editor of the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, and associate editor of Plumbing & Mechanical. He can be reached by email at chris@roofingmagazine.com.

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