MACON, Ga. - The Victorian Gothic design of Mercer University's administration building here is a popular local landmark. But it needed some major renovations - the last ones took place in 1910, and the architectural ornamental details and flashings were more than 120 years old.

Mercer University first opened in a log cabin in 1833, founded by prominent Georgia Baptist leader Jesse Mercer. It began an ambitious building program 40 years later, "a model of architectural beauty."

Macon is a city of 120,000 residents that serves as the educational, medical, cultural and commercial hub of Central Georgia, home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the newly-opened Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Mercer among the leading colleges and universities in the South for 11 consecutive years.

Ready to begin work in 1871, well-known architect G.P. Randall of Chicago, who also designed Northwestern University, was forced to start from scratch when his plans were consumed in the infamous Chicago fire.

As a result, he designed in many then-state-of-the-art fireproofing systems - to little avail, since a fire in 1910 damaged the building and the steeple had to be rebuilt.

However, that treatment withstood the test of time and his original design is intact, albeit much in need of renovation.

Enter L.E. Schwartz & Son Inc., a 110-year-old company selected to begin a 12-month renovation of the entire roofing system. The work consisted of complete removal of all existing roofing (slate and flat lock seam metal), deteriorated wood decking, attendant flashing, architectural ornamental details; and the fabrication and installation of the following:

  • Installation of slate in original patterns.

  • Fabrication and installation of standing seam metal roofing.

  • Installation of new wood decking, felt and ice and water shield.

  • Fabrication and installation of all dormers and related flashing.

  • Fabrication and installation of all dentile work.

  • Fabrication and installation of all architectural ornamental work including weathervanes, finials, fencing, ridge and hip cap, wall and window cornice.

  • Fabrication and installation of all gutters and downspouts.

  • Fabrication and installation of all flashing including step, valley, eave, rake and counter flashing.

  • Prime and finish paint of all exterior wood.

Prime and finish paint of all lead coated copper.

Project is golden

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) recognized L.E. Schwartz' efforts with its prestigious Gold Circle Award for workmanship at its annual convention held earlier this year in San Francisco.

The restoration replicated the work that was handcrafted over 120 years ago. Architectural metal torn off the building was used to create layout patterns for fabrication of all replacement metal components. Four 5,000 lb., 21-foot tall dormers had to be removed and then reinstalled. It's not a job the university expects to ever do again!

"Anytime you are dealing with history it is important because you are making a statement about the community, and the college as well," said company president Steve Kruger. "This project also showed what capabilities we have that sometimes go unnoticed."

The scope of work for this particular project ran several pages. Beyond the basics, there was attention to detail, such as: "On completion, all slate must be sound, whole and clean, and the roof shall be left in every respect tight and a neat example of workmanship." All exposed nailheads are covered with elastic cement. On the gutters, all joints are soldered and continuously doublelocked.

The project required 154 squares of slate roofing and 21 squares of flat seam metal roofing.

Teamwork was crucial to the project, as L.E. Schwartz had to subcontract some of the specialty metal work; the timing was important for weather, safety and other reasons. The building remained occupied while the work was proceeding.

Attention to safety is also impressive. The company has a safety director, Jerome Stevenson Jr., and its own 98-page health and safety manual. It covers a number of areas, including how to handle an OSHA inspection ("After you have verified his credentials, ask him to wait while you call the office for administrative support"), to broken bones, and even personal hygiene tips ("Failure to not practice good hygiene could result in lost time and productivity and seems to carry over to sloppy work habits and results").

A list of recent L.E. Schwartz customers reads like a who's who of corporate America: Armstrong, Proctor & Gamble, Brown & Williamson, M&M Mars, Cooper Tire, Sony, Caterpillar, Holiday Inn, Bell South, SmithKline, Home Depot; along with many medical, church, governmental and educational facilities. The company has around 200 employees, depending on current work. The company is qualified to do work in six states: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The Metal Systems Division handles design, fabrication and installation of ductwork, dust collection, blow pipe, air washers, and custom sheet metal. It occupies a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility. The Roofing Materials Warehouse occupies an additional 16,000-sq.-ft. Administrative offices add another 14,000-sq.-ft.

Melvin Kruger is ceo, while Steve Kruger is president. P. Kyle Davis is vice president, roofing systems division. C. Bryan Vance is vice president, sheet metal division. L.E. Schwartz was Kruger's great grandfather.

The company also produces many manufactured products in its metal systems division, with capabilities for CNC laser cutting, plasma arc cutting, forming, breaking, shearing, stamping, punching, rolling and welding. It offers finishing services from spray painting to assembly, final packaging and shipping. Fabrication equipment includes a Toledo 5-ton press punch; two Wysong shears; a Welty-Way coil line; Lockformer button punch and cheek bender; Lockformer edge turner and 24 ga. Pittsburgh; Engel Pittsburgh, standing seam and snap lock machines; two Pexto combination machines; a Duro-Dyne pinspotter; Lockformer Vulcan cutting machine; vane rail notcher; Piranha 50 ton ironworker; Chicago 90 ton press brake; Miller, Hobart and Lincoln welders; and an Iowa Precision Whisper Loc machine, among others.