Architects present comprehensive roof plan for St. Mark’s

HPC excited about upcoming St. Mark’s restoration work

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The architects involved with the restoration of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church made it clear they intend to make the new roof look as similar as possible to the original one while presenting their final roof design to the West Orange Historic Preservation Commission at its March 8 meeting.

Zachary Gidich and David Sepulveda said they based their roof plans on photos of the church taken before the massive fire that nearly destroyed it on New Year’s Day 2016. While the new roof will not match its predecessor exactly, they carefully selected each aspect of the design to appear as such to the casual observer. In fact, Gidich said, appealing to passersby was a primary objective of their design.

“We’re sort of approaching our design and our intention from the people’s public eye,” Gidich said.

This attention to detail was seen in their color choices for the roof tiles. Since the architects are using DaVinci Roofscapes synthetic slate instead of the actual slate used in the first roof, they said they used the church images they had and the tiles they recovered to find duplicate pigments in the DaVinci catalog. They were successful in the case of the red slate, as Gidich told the commission they found what they think is a 100-percent match in the DaVinci dark violet tile.

But the original roof’s tan-gray color proved difficult to match due to the patina that distorted the original slate’s pigment. The architects, however, were able to see the original stone color on some sections of the slate. As a result, Gidich said they were able to find a color that came close to the slate — DaVinci medium tan.

Gidich said the synthetic slate tiles will patina over time, but the polymers inside the plastic will prevent it from happening to the extent seen on the real slate. Likewise, he said the synthetic slate’s colors will fade, but not for more than 20 years at least. And while DaVinci Roofscapes offers a 50-year warranty guaranteeing its products will be free of leak-causing defects, the architect warned that the new roof’s tiles eventually will need to be replaced.

“This, like any other roof, is meant to be maintained,” Gidich said. “After a certain time, you’re going to have to come back and maintain it. It’s just part of the nature of a product. It’s part of the nature of even slate. Sometimes they chip, fall off.”

Another aspect of the original roof that Gidich and Sepulveda wanted to recapture in their design was a row of scalloped tiles. None of those tiles could be found among the rubble, so Gidich said they had to rely on pictures to see how they should look. By doing so, he said they learned they could cut the corners of the DaVinci tiles to get an appearance in line with the original scalloping. The synthetic slate tiles do have a back pattern, so he said there will be a bit of a shadow line when they are cut. But he said that will not inhibit its waterproof quality, and people walking by will not see it since the roof is so high.

Other similarities Gidich mentioned include the size of the DaVinci synthetic tiles measuring up close to the original slate tiles — the synthetic tiles come in a maximum of eight inches while the slate tiles were 10 inches. Plus, he said the gutters will go in the exact places they were previously since the architects know where their drainage holes are located. Some of the gutters even remained intact, Sepulveda said, which will further help them plot out their placement.

On top of that, Gidich said they noticed while looking at church photographs that the capstone was set higher than where the roof was for two or three of the walls. Using those images, he said they will copy that condition in their own design.

As for the roof system itself, Gidich explained that he and Sepulveda have designed a traditional roof in which the synthetic slate tiles are laid over felt paper that is attached to plywood substrate. He said flashing will occur in the corners, and an ice and water shield will be added at the end. He said the only thing unusual about the design is the DaVinci cap piece that will go on the roof, though that piece will match the appearance of the synthetic slate tiles.

Before that happens, Gidich said the two steel truss pieces will be made offsite before being brought to the church on trucks. They will then be attached onsite and lifted into place using a crane, he said.

In the end, the HPC members seemed willing to move forward with the plan. But Chairman Brian Feeney decided to postpone granting a certificate of appropriateness until March 22 so that the St. Mark’s subcommittee can compile a list of conditions it feels should be imposed. Some ideas were even suggested during the meeting.

Vice Chairman Martin Feitlowitz said he would like to recommend that Gidich serve as construction administrator for the project, which would mean he would oversee the work being done. Gidich said those services are currently not in his contract, but he would be willing to take them on if he can negotiate a deal with the property owner, International Federation of Chaplains. Feitlowitz urged him to do so, pointing out that having the role will benefit everyone.      

“It’s the way you’ll guarantee that it’s being done correctly,” Feitlowitz said.

Township Council President Joe Krakoviak also asked whether the architects could incorporate the section of slate tiles on the rectory roof that survived the fire into the new roof. Gidich said that would be difficult since the slate will likely break apart as it is removed. He had brought in a fairly big piece to show the commission, but he said that was only obtained after breaking a couple others around it. Still, the architect said he thought it was a great idea and would be willing to include what he could save.

The HPC was pleased to hear that.

“To maintain some original fabric of the building is a common practice,” Feeney said. “If you could find even the smallest inconspicuous area someone (could at least say) ‘This is the original material.’”

Also related to St. Mark’s Church, HPC member Gerald Fabris announced that Preservation New Jersey informed him it would like to include the nearly 200-year-old building on its annual list of endangered historic sites. Fabris, who nominated the church, said this is great news because the list will be publicized throughout the state once it is released in May, thus bringing attention to the cause of restoring it. He said the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, where he works, received a boost in donations after it was included on a similar national list.

Yet the federation representatives appeared unsure of whether it wanted to be included on the list. Douglas Hernandez said he was not opposed to the idea, but since his organization was never told about the nomination he would like to know more about what being recognized in that manner entails.

“We’re not familiar with it,” Hernandez said. “At least we’d like to do our due diligence and see what the process is and what does it mean to actually be registered.”

The HPC assured Hernandez that inclusion on the list is a positive development, with Feitlowitz pointing out that it cannot hurt to be included. Krakoviak agreed, stressing that being acknowledged by Preservation New Jersey will be a major asset when it comes to fundraising.

“This is the most significant source of information and support for historic preservation in the state,” Krakoviak said. “If this group says that St. Mark’s Church (is on the endangered list), what it’s saying is that they recognize the historic importance of this and also the importance of trying to preserve the property. And that’s what hopefully will generate support and funding to help with the restoration.”

If St. Mark’s Church indeed makes it onto this year’s list, Fabris said it is vital that Preservation New Jersey knows all of the progress that has been made at the site since the fire so that people will see how committed the federation is to the restoration effort. He therefore said he would give the federation representatives Preservation New Jersey’s contact information so that the property owner can provide it with all the work that has been done so far.

Looking ahead, Feeney asked if Gidich had a timetable for the roof, to which the architect responded that the work should take around one to two months to put on the roof. Gidich also said structural drawings are done and he already has contracted with a steel manufacturer in an effort to start the project as soon as the HPC grants it a certificate.

Future phases of the restoration do not have a timeline attached, though. Gidich said he has been focusing on the roof because having one atop the building will complete the stabilization of its walls. Additionally, he said it would send a message to the West Orange community.

“When we get a roof on this building, people are going to notice it,” Gidich said, explaining that it will demonstrate “big time progress.”

The federation representatives certainly hope that the restoration will be completed as quickly as possible. Hernandez said the International Council Liberation for All Souls — the church for which the federation purchased the property in March 2015 — prides itself on serving communities, but being without a central church building has limited what it can do. As it stands now, he said the congregation is divided between meeting places in West Orange and Newark, so it would like to come together again soon.

And the HPC is eager to support them in achieving that goal.

“We’re not here to be the heavy hand of government,” Feeney said. “We’re just here to help. So I think together we can try to move this project forward.”  

Photos by Sean Quinn