The people at CEI Michigan have earned a reputation for tackling tough restoration projects all over the world, so when one popped up in their own backyard, they figured they were perfect for the project.

Located in Howell, Mich., CEI Michigan is a union-shop commercial roofing contractor with 100 employees that does both new construction and retrofit work. Founded in 1968, the company specializes in difficult projects including historic renovations, slate roofs, green roofs, living walls, and roofs with multiple levels and multiple systems. They also handle international government projects, including embassy work in China, England, Lithuania, Cambodia, Panama, Cuba and Nigeria.

When the State of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources announced plans to convert Detroit’s Globe Trading Company Building into a one-of-a-kind Outdoor Adventure & Discovery Center, the project was seen as ambitious for several reasons, including the innovative design and the historic nature of the existing building. Located across from the William G. Milliken State Park & Harbor near the Detroit River, the facility will house exhibits, displays and hands-on simulators introducing visitors to the state’s recreation areas.

Plans called for a portion of the historic building to be demolished, with parts of it to be re-used and re-shaped as they were incorporated with a new section. The architect on the project was Hobbes+Black of Ann Arbor, Mich., and the construction manager on the project was Walbridge of Detroit. CEI was invited to bid on the roofing portion of the project and got the job.

Versatile Craftsmen

The company was originally founded in 1968 by brothers George Cook and John Cook. In the early1970s CEI became an early adopter of PVC, and as business flourished they opened branches in Colorado, California, Texas and Florida. In the late 1990s they sold the company to a consolidator named General Roofing, but in 2005 the Cook family bought the Michigan operation back. Eric Cook, George’s son, now serves as the company’s president, and Rob Cook, John’s son, serves as executive vice president. The fifth family member is Kristine Lindsey, George’s daughter, who is executive vice president and general counsel for the company.

CEI Michigan prides itself on its versatility and its ability to tackle the most difficult projects. “We install every roof system that’s out there,” said George. “We do slate, tile, standing seam, insulated wall panels. We have a very sophisticated sheet metal shop. We don’t sub anything out. We go from historical restorations to common gutters, copings and that type of thing. We do it all — and we do it as well as anyone out there.”

“Being in the union has helped us diversify,” said Rob Cook. “We’ve got some very skilled guys. We have more opportunities to find projects out there when there are more things you can do, we’ve found.”

“A lot of our new construction work is multiple system work — tile or slate tied in with flat roofing,” George Cook. “I don’t think we have a lot of competition when it comes to slate.”

The company has done a lot of work for universities, and clients include the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin, to name a few. Other recent high-profile commercial projects include the David Whitney Building and the McNamara Building in Detroit, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Just Another Complex Restoration Project

The Globe Trading Company Building project was right up CEI’s alley: limited access, multiple roof sections and historic renovation work combined to increase the degree of difficulty. To top it off, the project had a brutal schedule. Roofing work began in late November, so crews had to race to beat the oncoming winter weather.

The roof featured large relatively flat sections, sloped sections and two steep, narrow peaked sections that will be framed by clerestory windows. The roof assemblies were all topped with a light gray 60-mil Energy Star-rated EverGuard TPO from GAF.

Ricardo Aranguren, president of Specialized Roofing Sales and the GAF manufacturer’s rep on the project, said the membrane was the ideal choice for the project. “It meets all of the client’s needs,” he said. “First of all, it’s a long-term application. The building’s not going to go anywhere — it’s part of the State of Michigan’s state park program. They wanted a 20-year-plus-type system, they wanted to meet Energy Star requirements, and they wanted low maintenance. Parts of the roof are highly visible, so they did not want a brilliant white, and chose Energy Gray.”

The 4,800 square feet of low-slope area features fully tapered insulation, and CEI added saddles and valleys for proper drainage. The fully adhered system installed here included two layers of polyiso insulation, SECUROCK Gypsum-Fiber cover board and the TPO membrane.

In the sloped sections, including 23,400 square feet at a 2:12 slope, the system was mechanically fastened. The two narrow peaked sections had a slope of 6:12 and totaled about 1,600 square feet. In these areas, seams had to be welded by hand.

CEI also custom fabricated an exterior aluminum gutter system in its sheet metal shop, as well as a decorative metal covering. Crews were able to save some of the original tile on the parapets, and CEI fashioned metal coping to cover the rest of the parapet walls, as well as gravel stop and other edge metal. “They were able to save about 200 lineal feet of tile coping and re-use some brick,” noted Rob. “It’s nice to re-use as much material as possible.”

Safety First

Joe Fulton, CEI’s safety director, said safety concerns begin with choosing the right personnel for the project. “The first thing you do is find out which crew is best suited to be on that type of roof,” he said. “We want them to be comfortable. Tim Coselman and his crew excel at that type of work. You can’t put people up there that are afraid.”

Fulton outlined the safety precautions used on the project. “Due to the fact that you had flat roofs and sloped roofs, with sidewalks and roads right next to the building, we had to use multiple fall protections systems,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than metal decking, so we utilized a lot of roof anchor plates, along with a harness and rope grab.”

In the steepest sections, 3M 4000 removable roof anchors were installed at the ridge — one per employee. In the flat sections, workers used a 6-foot warning line along with a guardrail system from Garlock and the PR 600 mobile fall protection system.

Weather was a challenge, as snow slowed production and caused several delays. “Being that close to the river at this time of year, wind was also an issue,” said Fulton.

Staging was also difficult. CEI lifted all of the material to the roof with a crane, but there was very little room to work with on the rooftop. “Essentially we had to double handle material, which we try to avoid, but Walbridge did provide us with lay-down area, which was a big help,” said Rob.

CEI built temporary platforms that matched the slope of the roof so material could be loaded on the rooftop to cover one or two days’ work. Platforms were fabricated in-house and set in place using a boom truck. “We had to hire an engineer to make sure that they were capable of holding the weight, and we had to have that printed up and presented to Walbridge for approval,” George said. “Walbridge has very stringent safety requirements.”

CEI wrapped up most of its work on the project between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was a good thing, because harsh winter weather set in soon after that.

Building Partnerships

On this project, like any other, communication is key, noted Rob. He’s proud of the company his family has built and wants to make sure it keeps growing. “We talk all the time to make sure we know what we’re all doing and we’re all pulling in the same direction,” he said.

George Cook believes the key to success is creating a true partnership with his clients. “I think our mission statement sums up our approach pretty well,” he said. It reads in part, “Our pledge is to establish a long-lasting relationship with our customer by exceeding their expectations and gaining their trust through exceptional performance by every member of the CEI team.”

“In a nutshell, we excel at difficult jobs, whether they are difficult to access or difficult to install,” said Rob, who described his company’s versatility with a metaphor well suited to the Detroit area. “Because we do a variety of types of roof systems and metal systems, we can design a roof system to meet your needs — whether it’s a Cadillac or more of a Malibu.”

“We have so much knowledge, so much experience — there’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” Fulton said. “The guys in the field love the tough ones.”

Rob Cook replied with a smile, “They do at the end of the day.”