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Copper Dome Adds Shine to Downtown Milwaukee

For many years the empty lot at Water and Knapp streets in downtown Milwaukee was an undistinguished surface parking lot — part of the Park East Corridor that languished in development quandary for years after a planned freeway was never built.

Today, that lot boasts one of the most distinguished buildings in the neighborhood, a building that is being capped off with a copper dome and spire installed by F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing.

The five-story building will become the new home office for Hammes Company, which is moving its headquarters from Brookfield amid a trend of re-locations to downtown Milwaukee.

Much of the 93,390-square-foot building’s roof is a low-slope system with a standard EPDM/rubber membrane installed by FJAC. More visible and unique is the 4,000-square-foot copper dome, created from interlocking copper shingles that were fabricated by FJAC’s sheet metal department.

Each of the 1,900 14×22-inch panels for the dome was stamped from eight 1,000-pound rolls of copper coil FJAC utilized for the project, each with connecting tabs.

To install the copper panels, FJAC crews built a winch powered platform constructed of “OSHA planks” to move crews up and down the dome while they remained tied-off in fall protection lines and harnesses. That is providing safe access and protects the installed panels, noted Dan Ott, FJAC Superintendent.

“The dome presented some unique access and safety issues, but we were able to install the copper panels without any problems, and our strict observance of safety guidelines helped ensure our crews’ protection throughout,” Ott added.

The copper dome work is very similar to that used by FJAC on the dome of the Basilica of St. Josaphat on Milwaukee’s south side, noted FJAC sheet metal Superintendent Jeff Keller, who worked on that project in 1993-94.

“It’s very intricate work,” Keller said. “The seams of each panel are pounded together to create the sealed connection, while those panels more horizontal atop the dome are carefully soldered to further seal those areas.”

To channel water runoff from the dome, FJAC sheet metal craftsmen installed a specially fabricated stainless steel gutter around the entire circumference of the base.  The base of the dome is further complemented with an intricate multi-piece copper fascia system just above the flat roof areas below.

Once the Block 16 copper panels are installed by mid-summer, the dome will be topped with a 15-foot-high copper spire, with the help of FJAC’s crane.

Heavy gauge aluminum at the base of the spire will be bolted to steel beams that are part of the dome’s structure, Keller said. An August installation is anticipated.

While the copper dome provides the most visible and unique look, an attractive champagne colored horizontal metal wall panel system and the low-slope roof system also were custom to this project.  To allow for winter roof construction conditions, FJAC modified the original specification to include Carlisle’s 115-mil. AFX fleeceback EPDM membrane and tapered insulation system all installed in hot asphalt.  Finally, certain patio areas adjacent to office space are finished with a pedestal and paver system.  The pavers were particularly unique, and attractive, as they were cut from stone rather than the more typical concrete constructed paver products.

The Block 16 building was designed in the Jeffersonian style of Neo-Classical architecture.

Hammes Company will occupy the top two floors while the remaining space will be leased for office use and, on the first floor, restaurant and retail use.  Sure to become another downtown Milwaukee landmark, the Hammes building will provide both beauty and watertight integrity for years to come thanks to FJAC sheet metal craftsmen led by Foremen Paul Keller, Ryan Osheim and Tylor Sanborn and roofing craftsmen led by Crew Managers Angel Torres and Oscar Torres.

A second phase could add 90,000 to 100,000 square feet to the building in the coming years, the company said when the building project was announced.

Block 16 is the second FJAC project in the Park East Corridor. The company earlier installed a unique roof atop a Milwaukee School of Engineering parking structure. That roof has artificial turf and serves as a soccer field for the school.