Milwaukee County Courthouse


Milwaukee County’s Beautiful Courthouse Remains in Session

Built for the ages and rising above downtown Milwaukee’s west side, the Milwaukee County Courthouse serves as home for many necessary government functions.  Among these are the comprehensive County court system, executive offices, the County Board and many other County departments.  To residents and visitors alike, this beautiful structure has become one of the City’s best-known buildings in grace and beauty.

A Historic Structure

Located between 9th and 10th Streets, this facility actually would be the County’s third courthouse structure.  The previous building was a large domed structure situated on Cathedral Square.  Construction of the current Courthouse began in 1929 and continued for nine years until completion in 1938.  Through a design contest and award to architect Albert Randolph Ross of New York, the character would be semi-class Roman with the lower functional stories surrounded by straight, clean lines while the courtrooms above would be encased within ornate pillars, pilasters, and cornices.  The excavation process would require removal of 100,000 cubic yards of earth relocated as fill for the Lincoln Memorial Drive project also underway.  The six stone columns at the east entrance were considered to be the most significant pieces of building stone of any structure in the western hemisphere.  The interior would be graced by marble imported from Italy, American walnut, gorgeous brass lighting fixtures and murals (25, all registered in the National Archives) in the many courtrooms and the largest in the County Boardroom.

Unveiled – Original and Recover Roof Systems Removed

To maintain the watertight integrity of this beautiful facility, the County embarked on a roof replacement project that began with an evaluation of the existing roof system and plans for a replacement system.  FJAC also performed the building’s first reroofing project approximately 30 years earlier.  A lengthy process of evaluating and estimating the construction costs for this daunting project would prove fruitful, however, as the County awarded the project to our firm following a competitive public bid process.

The project specifications included a complete tear-off down to the structural deck immediately beneath the original coal tar pitch and gravel roof that was underneath the lightweight insulating concrete and built-up/asphalt and gravel roof installed earlier by FJAC.  Always keeping the building watertight at the end of every shift, the crew only tore off as much roofing that could be recovered with a 2-ply temporary roof.  They then installed two layers of 1.5” polyisocyanurate and 1” perlite board in moppings of hot asphalt.  The roof membrane consisted of a GAF 4-ply asphalt and built-up gravel roof.

The limestone copings were removed to install 24oz copper through-wall flashings and then re-installed.  The roof was then outfitted with elaborate copper counter-flashing details beautifully complementing this solidly constructed roof system.

Unique Challenges

Due to a variety of factors, this roof replacement project would not come without its own set of challenges.  Christiansen was up to the problems and addressed these issues with the same expertise and professionalism they have provided to building owners since 1879.

The first challenge to overcome was the issue of security within the Courthouse.  As most of the rooftop activity would occur during evening hours, roofing and sheet metal crews were not permitted to enter the building.  Scaffolding was erected on the building’s west side and provided for stairway access to the roof – not a minor detail as over 130 feet of stairs was needed to reach the top. Safety is an issue when setting up scaffolding at such heights.  It becomes even a more significant issue when the entire roofing operation must be performed during nighttime hours – another project requirement because of the concern that the noise would have on the many courtrooms in session during the day.  The removal of the lightweight insulating concrete, in particular, was a noisy construction process that would otherwise be very disruptive.  Lights and generators were utilized to provide enough artificial lighting that would be sufficient for both safety and quality roof installation procedures.

Lastly, and perhaps most significant, was the logistical challenge of a great many individual roof areas at varied heights and access points within the building’s structure.  Fortunately, we were able to address this challenge efficiently through the use of our GCI 5400 tower crane (able to reach a maximum height of 315 feet).

The project was performed in phases.  The first two phase involved reroofing of the north and middle third of this beautiful and historic structure, with the second phase encompassing the south third of this facility.  Across all project areas, many of the same challenges and specification requirements were encountered and successfully met.  Thanks to the many months of tireless effort by the County’s project staff and those of FJAC directly involved.  Due to their combined hard work, Milwaukee’s Courthouse will remain in session for many years under a new and watertight F.J.A. Christiansen roof installation.



Operating Unit: F.J.A Christiansen Roofing Co., Inc.
Client: Milwaukee County
Industry Type: Government
Project Type: Roof Replacement
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Square Footage: NA
Systems Installed: Built up, Insulation