The original tin-covered cupola was prone to leaks, necessitating the need to create a new one. Photo by Mike Schneider

It was going to take more than prayers to save the cupola atop the Laurentianum, the main building at St. Lawrence Seminary.

While the cross-topped, metal-clad structure may have appeared OK to passersby, engineers had assured officials with the Mount Calvary, Wis., private Catholic high school that the 125-year-old campus landmark was falling apart.

The cupola's tin roof, which had been painted over many times - most recently, dark gray - was brittle and prone to leaks. Contractors estimated that it would cost $100,000 to repair - money the seminary did not have.

School officials asked the St. Lawrence alumni foundation for help. The group had funded similar projects in the past and was eager to help again, said Tom Groeschel, a senior project manager with Capelle Bros. & Diedrich Inc., a general contractor based in Fond du Lac, Wis., that was awarded the project.

"They have turned to us for a lot of construction solutions over the years," Groeschel said, himself a 1973 St. Lawrence high school graduate and member of the foundation. "This was a very unusual one."

High standards

The alumni association relied on private donations to raise the cash needed for the cupola's restoration. The group raised $98,000 in a little over a year. Michael Schneider, the school's donor and alumni relations manager, said he expects the final $2,000 to be raised soon.

The project required removing the 20-foot-high cupola by crane, disassembling and strengthening it, and installing 40 sheets of 16-ounce copper - more than 1,200 pounds worth - on the dome. A gold lacquer was to be applied to the finial cross at the dome's top.

While Capelle & Diedrich were responsible for much of the roof work, including installing new rafters, sheeting and the cupola's windows, the job of making the soon-to-be-copper dome was given to Tower Mechanical Services Inc. of Oshkosh, Wis.

Forty sheets of 16-ounce copper were applied by Tower Mechanical workers to the new cupola. Photo by Jim Morgan.

The 40-employee HVAC, piping, controls and architectural sheet metal company does a lot of standing-seam roofing, commercial and high-end residential projects, said Rick Kelpinski, a project manager and estimator at Tower Mechanical.

Although Tower had worked on churches before, the St. Lawrence Laurentianum was a little different.

"This was a real specialty-type thing," Kelpinski said.

Capelle & Diedrich used a 120-foot crane to remove the dome in early May, which meant Tower employees would be doing much of their fabrication and installation work during the hottest and most humid days of an upper Midwest summer.

Tower Mechanical Services Foreman Mark Lantagne performs some welding work on the new cross that would sit atop the Laurentianum at St. Lawrence Seminary. The original decades-old cross (inset) was decayed. Photos by Rick Kelpinski

Hot times

June and July temperatures regularly reached the 90s.

"We did (it) during the worst stretch of summer," Kelpinski said, adding that the sun would "bake" the copper as they were working with it. "We did so much fabrication on-site."

Project foreman Mark Lantagne worked with Don Jolin and Rick Huss, who did much of the in-shop fabrication. Company President Jim Morgan also regularly visited the jobsite.

The project allowed Kelpinski a rare chance do some hands-on work.

"(It) just reminds me of the old-school copper work," Kelpinski said. He enjoyed the experience.

"I had to get all dirty," he said. "I was able to do the fascia. I was basically the helper."

The final work on the finial - or "onion ball," as Kelpinski called it - was done by hand. The tower, now sporting a shiny copper cupola, new cornice details, bright-white sides and 12 new windows, was set back in place by crane Aug. 11. The event was covered by the Fond du Lac Reporter, the region's daily newspaper.

Mark Lantagne inspects the base before the cupola is attached. Photo by Jim Morgan.

"It was very exciting," Groeschel said.

Kelpinski was just as ecstatic.

"You know this thing is going to be up there a couple hundred years," he said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail