Actually, to call the late Senator James Strom Thurmond of South Carolina an icon would be something of an understatement. At the time of his retirement from the United States Senate at the age of 100, he was the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Before that he crashed his glider in the World War II Battle of Normandy on the way to earning 18 medals, decorations and awards.

Actually, to call the late Senator James Strom Thurmond of South Carolina an icon would be something of an understatement. At the time of his retirement from the United States Senate at the age of 100, he was the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Before that he crashed his glider in the World War II Battle of Normandy on the way to earning 18 medals, decorations and awards. He continued to serve and retired from the U.S. Army Reserves as a Major General. Following the war he was elected governor of South Carolina and served from January 1947 through January 1951. While his political life was filled with controversy, he was so beloved by the people of South Carolina that he was the only person in the history of the U.S. Senate to be elected as a write-in candidate.

Roughly halfway through Thurmond’s senate career, officials decided to name the new federal building and courthouse complex in Colombia after him to honor his (then) 50 years of public service in South Carolina. Construction of the Strom Thurmond Federal Building complex began in 1975 and was completed in 1979 at a cost of $23.5 million. Since then it has been managed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and occupied by a variety of federal agencies. Among others, the building currently houses offices for Federal OSHA, U.S. Customs, Federal Marshals, DEA, and the IRS.

The Building

The Strom Thurmond Federal Building strikes an impressive pose on the Colombia skyline with its brutalist architecture. The term brutalist comes from the French Béton brut, or “raw concrete.” The hooded windows not only give the building its unique appearance, but also serve to minimize direct sunlight, keeping interior temperatures lower during warm South Carolina summers.

Speaking of South Carolina summers, they can be tough on the low-slope roof of an iconic office tower. A few years ago the GSA decided it was time to replace the aging roof, a four-ply BUR over 11/2 inches of perlite roof insulation and a two-ply vapor barrier mopped to a concrete deck. The GSA chose Stafford Consulting Engineers to design a retrofit roofing system. The Atlanta-based firm of McDonough Bolyard Peck Inc. was later chosen as construction manager for the replacement of the tower’s roof. “Roofs” would be a more apt description of this project, since the project was really the removal and replacement of a number of roofs and plaza decks that were situated on a number of different elevations.

Raymond Engineering – GA, LLC provided roof evaluation services. J. Wayne Poole Inc. of Greensboro, N.C. served as the general contractor for the project and Murton Roofing of South Carolina Inc. was chosen as the roofing contractor. The roofing system selected was by Soprema Inc. Quite a team - and this challenging project took the resources of them all to reach a successful conclusion.

The system specified called for the complete removal of the old membrane, insulation and vapor barrier down to the structural concrete deck. Not what you normally find on commercial buildings with structural concrete decks, but the deck on the Strom Thurmond Building was tapered right down to most of the crickets required for the new application. According to Ed Murton, the deck was in great shape and they only needed to install a few additional crickets to obtain positive drainage.

The specifications called for the concrete deck to be primed and have a smooth-surfaced modified bitumen (MB) sheet torch applied as a vapor barrier that also served as a temporary roof. Next came 11/2 inches of polyiso roof insulation installed with OlyBond 500, a two-part low-rise polyurethane foam insulation adhesive by OMG Roofing Products. Next came a protection course of DensDeck Prime by G-P Gypsum, a Georgia-Pacific Company. The finishing membrane consisted of two plies of Soprema MB, a smooth course followed by a mineral-surfaced cap sheet. By any measure this system was first class all the way.

This metal coping was one of numerous special design elements on the Strom Thurmond Building re-roof project.

The Challenges

You could say that tearing-off an insulated BUR membrane and vapor barrier down to a structural concrete deck would be a significant challenge all by itself. This project added a few other twists, beginning with the 240-foot height of the building and the fact that the primary roof elevations terminated with a gravel stop. There were no parapets to serve as fall protection or protection from flying debris. All the tear-off had to be bagged and lowered to the ground with great care. But first Murton had to figure out how to get materials up and down.

The original plan for the project called for an elevator to be mounted to the side of the building to raise and lower all the men, equipment and materials. That plan fell through with the discovery that the soil density surrounding the building would not support the installation of the elevator system. The elevator platform required the ground to withstand forces of 3,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) but the ground tested at 500 PSI. Enter plan B. With a choice of exactly one place to stage lifts, the decision was made to use a swing-boom hoist mounted at the roof edge and do all the lifting from the roof.

All that would have been difficult enough given the tight setup area (that also served as the entrance to the day care center located in the building). The real problem came in the form of the hooded windows. Those “hoods” jut out from the side of the building and did not allow enough room for the swing-beam hoist to operate safely. Terry Marshall, vice president of Murton Roofing of South Carolina, met with engineers at Smith-Shealy Steel of West Columbia, S.C., to work out a solution. They designed a steel platform that could be built to overhang the roof edge 6 feet, allowing sufficient clearance for the cable on the swing-beam hoist. Smith-Shealy furnished the steel girders that formed the base of the unit and the platform, which was covered by 2-by-6 lumber, was built on Murton’s yard.

Some of the specialty equipment that added some “adventure” in tight spaces.

The completed unit was then disassembled for transport to the building site where the next small issue was lifting it to the roof along with the swing-beam hoist that would serve the project. Murton worked with Maxim Crane of Columbia to perform the lifts that would get this project started. Challenge for them was the window of time that the GSA could allow them to come in and perform the task of setting up their crane, making the lifts, and knocking it back down. This particular unit takes around 8 hours to set up and 8 hours to knock down. The window began on a Friday afternoon at 6:30 and everything had to be gone by 6:00 on Monday morning. The lifts were all performed on Saturday and included the specially-fabricated hoist platform, eight truckloads of equipment and some materials. Maxim Crane was the first on the site and the last off as the process was repeated (in reverse) at the project’s conclusion.

A big part of the equipment loaded that day were the steel guardrail systems that had to be installed around the perimeter of most of the roof elevations. This became the first order of business for Murton’s roofers, who had to be tied off until the guardrail installation was completed and approved for use. The hoist platform was erected and the new Smith Hoist furnished by Beta Max Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., was put into place. A second Smith Hoist was used for lifting material for use on another elevation.

The place where Murton could lift and lower material was not the only restriction. The hoist had to be located over the entrance to the daycare facility, so no lifting or lowering was allowed on weekdays from 7:00 to 9:30 in the morning or 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon. The tear-off debris had to be lowered in small lots and removed from the site every day. The roofing materials were lifted on Saturdays and Sundays. Operating the lift was a bit of the challenge as well since the operator could not see the ground where the lifts were being staged. It took some great communication from ground to roof to safely perform over 1,300 lifts to complete this project. Of course, windy days provided a little extra difficulty.

So here are a few more items to add to the previously mentioned thrills of staging a reroofing project over one of OSHA’s offices on a downtown high-rise building where the occupants also included up to 86 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. The satellite dishes had to be dealt with and there is no telling what they were beaming back and forth, but the term “national security” comes to mind. It is safe to say no major geopolitical upheaval occurred as a result of this reroofing project.

There were also many roofs to contend with and some of the more interesting included the “holes” where massive HVAC structures were mounted. Some of the old waterproofing on the concrete decks was on so tight it could not be removed. This required the mechanical fastening of a layer of Dens Deck Prime directly to the substrate. The walls surrounding some of the interior roofs were capped with BUR that had to be removed and replaced with a metal coping. All the metal on the project was stainless steel except for some of the Soprema flashing, which was clad in aluminum.

One of over 1,300 lifts required to complete this project. The custom lift platform was constructed in place and removed on the last day.

A Fine Finish

So now the Strom Thurmond Federal Building in Columbia, S.C., is sporting a shiny new cap thanks to the efforts of a lot of folks, including a very resourceful roofing contractor. In addition to pulling the project off without an injury or damage incident, Murton Roofing was able to walk off the project without a punch list a week ahead of schedule.

According to Ed Murton, while this was nowhere near the largest project he has tackled in over 40 years in the business, it was one of the most challenging and rewarding. Several of the folks involved in the project agree and give the roofing contractor high marks for its work on this project. General contractor Jerry Poole says of Murton, “they’re good to work with.” They chose Murton with a small number of “select roofing contractors” to bid the project and are very pleased with their choice. Poole adds that the GSA was “really pleased” with the project, as was the engineering firm that provided the weekly inspections. In spite of the scope of the project and the small staging area on the ground, Poole said, “The place was almost spotless when they left … no broken windows … no damage to the property.”

The technician providing routine inspections for Soprema, Kevin McWhorter, was similarly pleased. He is very familiar with Murton’s work, and he complimented Terry Marshall’s dedication to all manners of details from safety to jobsite order to installation technique. McWhorter covers all of Georgia and part of South Carolina for Soprema.

Don Trammell III, with the construction manager for the project, McDonough Bolyard Peck, Inc., spoke of this project in glowing terms. Trammell was so impressed with this project he is considering a nomination to the “Project of the Year” award that is given by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). CMAA is North America’s only organization dedicated exclusively to the interests of professional Construction and Program Management.

The definition of success for any retrofit roofing project is one where the roofing contractor gets paid and walks away with happy customers who are so happy they are willing to tell others about the experience. Ed Murton and his team are justifiably proud of their work on the Strom Thurmond Federal Building. When you add up the construction manager, the general contractor, the roofing system manufacturer, the owner’s representatives, and the building’s occupants as happy customers, that is a truly outstanding feat.