What makes one roofing job a little more special than the next? A particularly finicky client, or perhaps a building with historical significance? How about a demanding set of specifications or a particularly daunting set of logistical challenges? Or the constraints of a schedule that allows almost no room for error? The reroofing project at Union Station (Old Montgomery Train Station) is one that featured a little (and sometimes a lot) of each.

What makes one roofing job a little more special than the next? A particularly finicky client, or perhaps a building with historical significance? How about a demanding set of specifications or a particularly daunting set of logistical challenges? Or the constraints of a schedule that allows almost no room for error? The reroofing project at Union Station (Old Montgomery Train Station) is one that featured a little (and sometimes a lot) of each.

David Lee of Roof Asset Management Inc., with headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., and an office in Millbrook, Ala., was commissioned by the city of Montgomery, Ala., as the consultant to specify and oversee this important project. John B. Sullivan, owner of Southern Roofing Co. in Montgomery won the bid to perform the work.

The roof on the Union Station building suffered from years of patching and neglect. This photo taken before the demolition documents some of the repair work, which complicated the demolition and removal of some flashings.

Scope of the Project

Montgomery lost its place as the Confederate capital to Richmond, Va., shortly after the establishment of the Confederacy, but it continues to reign as the capital of the state of Alabama. Montgomery and nearby Selma serve as popular tourist destinations for Civil War and civil rights history buffs. Preservation of important historical buildings such as the Union Station building in Montgomery is important culturally, as well as being important for the local economy.

The roof on the Union Station building had suffered from years of neglect and poor roofing practices. The base roof covering of shingles had not one but two more courses of shingles nailed over it, and failed flashings had been dealt with by way of “more flashing cement” instead of properly removing, cleaning and replacing metal flashing. The roof did not leak everywhere, but it did leak in the worst places and the collateral damage was becoming significant.

Empowered with the dollars to do a proper restoration and renovation job, the city moved forward with the project. Publicly funded, the bid process included a pre-bid conference, which was attended by 10 roofing contractors. When it came down to bid day, three came forward with their proposals and Southern Roofing Co. walked away as the successful bidder. Owner John B. Sullivan credits the knowledge gained from having done work on other parts of the structure eight years earlier for his successful bid. He knew the challenges, but he also knew how to overcome some of the more costly and time-consuming ones.

The contract was for $330,000 worth of:

• Demolition - including the removal of three layers of old shingles.

• Cleaning and replacing any rotten or damaged wood decking.

• Installing a layer of No. 30 asphalt-saturated felt.

• Application of a self-adhering modified asphalt ice barrier at the valleys, eaves and perimeters.

• Installing roughly 300 squares of 40-year laminated shingles (CertainTeed Landmark 40 in Moire Black).

• Removing and replacing metal components using 20-ounce copper.

• Reworking or replacing copper box gutters and downspouts.

• Installing self-adhered modified bitumen membrane systems on low-slope areas (CertainTeed SA smooth interplay and SA granulated cap).

• Cleaning and resealing of all concrete coping areas, matching them to the existing coping color.

That all sounds pretty simple, until you start to throw in some of the finer details. Remember that this roofing job involved a prominent and historically significant building in the middle of downtown in a capital city. The job is owned by this capital city, and it is a bit like doing your job in an aquarium. The building no longer serves as a railroad terminal but houses a variety of individual enterprises, including restaurants and lawyers’ offices. There is an OSHA office across the street, and politicians and important city managers had their eyes on the project nearly every day.

This section of the existing valley looks pretty good until you consider what lies beneath - two more layers of shingles.

The Plan

Sullivan had a scheme to actually perform the work. The real genius displayed on the execution of this project was not in the logistics but in communications. At the onset of the project, there was a meeting between all parties to be involved in the project. Sullivan laid all of his cards on the table. He made it clear that this project was going to be somewhat of a hassle for everyone concerned, and then proceeded to tell them, “This is what we are going to do.” Sullivan vowed to keep them informed of what would happen during the project and promised that they would be pleased with the results. His superintendents and foremen ran the production, but he handled the communication duties personally. He routinely visited with the building managers and other key tenants to check with them to listen to any grievances and to let them know what was coming. The result was a peaceful relationship between the contractor and the building’s occupants. This relationship played a vital role in keeping the work moving forward and avoiding delays.

While the communications aspect was important, there was still a significant amount of work to do under some very difficult circumstances. Access to the building was limited, and a stick crane capable of reaching virtually all parts of the roof from one or two positions was hired. The demo was necessarily slow since the building was fully “alive” during the work. Everything was done in small sections, and special tarps and safeguards had to be placed in some areas, such as the outdoor dining area on the back of the building. Diners did not miss lunch as the work proceeded overhead.

Safety was paramount, and not just because the OSHA office was across the street. Besides being a tall structure with eaves heights of 50 feet to 60 feet, the slope is steep at 14:12 in most places. All workers were fitted out with personal fall arrest equipment and were tied off for the duration of the project. The building had to be maintained “watertight” at all times during construction, and Southern Roofing Co. succeeded in finishing its work without incident, even though the project was completed during the rainy season. Just to make things interesting, the city threw a couple of events adjacent to the building that required all work to stop for days in advance.

The building is a thing of beauty, and the copper-clad portico is one of the most interesting architectural features on the Union Station. The lettering was fabricated by a specialty firm, and the low-slope roof over the portico features a clean, white modified bitumen membrane roof.

According to Lee, the project was a complete success that featured, above all, a very satisfied client in the city of Montgomery. It did not hurt that Southern Roofing Co. brought the job in a month ahead of schedule, without accidents or injuries - and with absolutely no punch list items.

John B. Sullivan, the owner of Southern Roofing Company, stands in front of the historic Union Station building he reroofed in Montgomery, Ala.

Born to Roof

It is no accident that John B. Sullivan is a roofing contractor. His grandfather, J.L. Sullivan, was a built-up roofer until he was 73 years old. J.L. went to work for Acme Roofing in 1931 and later worked for Tip Top Roofing in Mobile, Ala.

John’s father, Johnny Sullivan, was the youngest of five and started his career in the roofing business at age 14 carrying shingles on the Capehart housing project. Johnny went to work for Standard Roofing Co., where he ran roofing projects all over the country and then all over the world. Standard specialized in procuring government projects. On Johnny’s resumé you find roofing jobs on the Louisiana Superdome, the seven miles of State Docks in New Orleans, Fort Knox, and numerous projects in the Middle East, to name a few. He also supervised waterproofing of silos for ICBMs in the Midwest. Johnny is also a helicopter pilot, but that is another story.

Having had enough of the road, Johnny took over Montgomery Roofing, which he ran for 15 years. A health problem ended his stint there, and he turned that business over to a partner. On the mend, and with son John B., Johnny formed Southern Roofing Co. in 1982. Following a third heart attack in 1991, he turned the business over to John and has not looked back. Like his father and grandfather, John began working on the roof at a very early age. He credits the field experience he gained as a young man, together with the strong work ethic taught by his father, as the foundation of his success as a roofing contractor today.

Finding and keeping great people is another thing he credits for the success of his firm. Proud of a very low turnover rate, he employs around 30 and produces a volume of work between $4 million and $5 million. A 50-50 split between residential and commercial work keeps them busy. Ninety percent of the firm’s work is retrofit and includes slate, tile and metal roofing.

John is not unlike many successful roofing contractors you will meet. He confesses to working way too much, but he has learned over the years how to relax, take vacations with his family, and turn key parts of his business over to trusted longtime employees. A volunteer firefighter and a veteran drag racer in the Funny Car class in the NHRA circuit, he also owns a pair of auto repair shops, which is a good thing for a roofing contractor who likes to race cars.

So, there you have it. Combine a bloodline that has some asphalt in it with a strong work ethic and you come up with a roofing contractor custom-made to tackle a challenging project like the historic Union Station reroofing job in Montgomery - a project and a business to be proud of.