You will soon see scaffolding and other preparations in advance of St. John’s repairing or replacing elements of the belltower and flat roofs over the cloister walk, Thorne Room, Chapter Room and parts of Murray Hall. The “belltower and roofing project” work will continue into the fall. As we finalize arrangements with our contractor, we are sharing information about the project with parishioners through the following FAQs.


What is the Belltower and Roofing Project?

The Belltower and Roofing Project is an exterior restoration project to address serious water infiltration issues that St. John’s has experienced over the past 18 months. The work will center around the belltower, the cloister area (the area between the sanctuary and Murray Hall), and Murray Hall.

Specifically, the project includes:

  • Belltower: masonry repairs and replacement of the copper roof
Belltower: mortar cracks viewed from the interior and the worn copper roof
  • Cloister area: replacement of the flat roof and masonry restoration
Cloister Roof
  • Murray Hall roof: slate repair and replacement of the two roof valleys
Murray Hall: roof valley and evidence of leaks in ceiling below
  • Murray Hall vestibule: masonry restoration
Murray Hall Vestibule: evidence of water damage
  • Church building: miscellaneous slate roof repair – replacement of broken slate tiles
Slate Roof: broken, shifting and displaced slate
  • Education building: miscellaneous mortar repairs around main doors and first floor windows
Education building: miscellaneous mortar repairs required

What evidence is there of the water infiltration?

We have found evidence of serious water infiltration in several locations. There are water stains in the cloister area by the stairwell and along the parish hall wall. When it rains heavily, water drips down from the parish hall ceiling in the area nearest to the cloister hallway. You may recall that we had a temporary front door to the sanctuary for several months last year. When the door was removed for repairs, we found water running out from the cavity between the walls. The temporary door remained in place while we investigated the cause of the water infiltration. (See photos.)

Water stains in the cloister are and our temporary front door

When and how did these building issues arise? Why now?

The water infiltration issues have occurred over a period of time and are the result of normal aging of the structures. When the 2012 interior renovation project was undertaken, we were aware that work would be needed on the belltower down the road. Because the work was not urgent at the time and our funds were limited, we postponed the work that we are now undertaking.

In response to cloister area leaks identified in December 2015, we made limited roof repairs then. We were advised that the roof repairs would be a temporary solution and that the next time we experienced water issues in that area, we would likely need to replace the roof. “Next time” is now.

How was the scope of the project determined? How did you figure out what needed to be done to fix the leaks?

In the early spring of 2017, we realized that we would likely have to replace the cloister roof when new leaks appeared in the cloister area. We asked several local contractors to review the situation and provide us with recommendations. Before we could make any decision on the cloister roof, we discovered the water infiltration issues in the belltower and had roofers and masons take a look. Each contractor had a slightly different approach to addressing the issues. It was clear we needed more expertise to determine the best long-term solution for St. John’s.

Bill O’Connor, the head of our external property management consulting firm, Parish Property Management (PPM), recommended that we hire an architectural/engineering firm specializing in exterior restoration to help us assess the issues, recommend the best course of action, and implement the appropriate solution.

The Vestry agreed with this recommendation. We invited four architectural/engineering firms to submit proposals. Following interviews by the belltower/roofing committee, extensive reference-checking and other due diligence, the committee recommended, and the Vestry engaged, SUPERSTRUCTURES Engineers + Architects (SSX) in June of 2017 for three phases of work: 1) investigation/schematic design; 2) design/pre-construction; and 3) construction administration. We chose SSX based on its extensive experience with exterior restoration and its very detailed, meticulous, hands-on approach from project initiation through completion; its costs were mid-range.

The investigation phase included visual inspection, exploratory probes, roof membrane test cuts, and water testing, which combined deluge testing with infrared thermographic testing and electrical impedance testing to measure the water penetration. Based on the results of these tests, SSX developed a proposal to address the water infiltration issues.

Example of thermographic testing in the Murray Hall Vestibule

During its investigation work, did our architectural/engineering firm - SUPERSTRUCTURES (SSX) - find any other potential problems with our buildings?

As part of the contract with SSX, the Vestry asked the firm to assess the condition of the entire exterior envelope of the church buildings, including the education wing. The Vestry believed it was critical to understand all foreseeable building exterior needs and to plan for such work. As a result of this study, SSX prioritized the work into three phases:

  • Priority 1, immediate, within the next 1-2 years;
  • Priority 2 – within the next 3-4 years; and
  • Priority 3 – longer-term, within the next 10 years.

Priority 1 consists of the belltower/roofing project. Priority 2 involves the classroom building parapet (the low protective wall along the edge of the roof). Priority 3, the largest of the three projects, involves replacing the slate roofs on the church and Murray Hall and the classroom building roof.

The Vestry agreed to move forward on all the Priority 1 work identified by SSX.

How much will the work cost and how will St. John’s pay for it?

We estimate the total costs for the Priority 1 phase at about $750,000. Last year, the Vestry authorized the expenditure of up to $150,000 for all three phases of SUPERSTRUCTURE’s work, including the water testing and asbestos testing performed by third parties. At its most recent (May) meeting, the Vestry authorized the expenditure of up to $600,000 for Priority 1 construction, including asbestos abatement and related air monitoring.

St. John’s is in the fortunate position of having the funds to pay for this critical work. Our parish has around $7 million of endowment and other funds, some of which were established explicitly for the purpose of maintaining our buildings. Our investments are all marketable securities; we have more than adequate liquidity to pay for these time-sensitive Priority 1 capital repairs. We will draw down our endowment funds by $750,000 to pay for the Priority 1 projects.

The Vestry considered other options, such as a bank loan secured by pledging some of our investment funds, to reduce the cost of the project to St. John’s. However, the Investment Committee advised the Vestry that it would be less costly, and less risky, to draw upon our endowment funds rather than finance the project through a loan.

Who will be the contractor be and how did we select the firm?

Once the Vestry reviewed SUPERSTRUCTURE’s (SSX) recommendations and agreed to authorize all the recommended Priority 1 work, SSX prepared detailed construction drawings and the bid package. SSX distributed bid invitations to a combination of contractors recommended by members of the belltower/roofing committee and contractors recommended by SSX. We received proposals from three contractors. Two of the firms specialized in exterior restoration; the third was a general contractor.

The belltower/roofing committee recommended that the Vestry award the contract to Vesels GC LLC for the following reasons:

  • The majority of the committee members had more confidence in a firm that specializes in exterior restoration; Vesels specializes in exterior restoration and has extensive commercial experience.
  • SSX has worked with Vesels and vouched for the quality of its work.
  • The firm will perform all work itself; a sub-contractor will be needed only for the asbestos abatement work. Communications and lines of responsibility during construction will therefore be straightforward (with subs, there can be added levels of complexity).
  • Of the two contractors specializing in exterior restoration work, Vesels was less expensive.

What is the timing on the work? When will it begin and how long will the project take?

We have just finalized the contract with Vesels GC LLC. Vesels will apply for the necessary permits and can start the work as soon as the permits are granted. SSX has estimated 20 weeks of work. We anticipate beginning the work within the next 2-3 weeks and completing the project by November 30, 2018, before winter.

How will we ensure that the work is done properly?

SUPERSTRUCTURES (SSX) has prepared very detailed specifications that provide minimal latitude for the contractor. Under St. John’s contract with SSX, during the construction phase, SSX will provide oversight of Vesels’ work, which will include weekly site visits and routine meetings with St. John’s representatives. SSX must sign off on the work before the last invoice is submitted. Under the contract with Vesels, St. John’s will retain 10% of each bill throughout the project, until final completion and sign-off.

Who has been involved with this project?

The belltower/roofing committee was formed more than twelve months ago, as soon as the magnitude of the issues became apparent. The committee routinely provided updates to the Vestry. Committee members include: Rick Berry, representing the Executive Committee; Kathy Brenner, who led St. John’s interior renovation project in 2012 and is intimately familiar with our buildings; Christopher Burrows, a Vestry member whose professional work includes 25 years of experience with construction and facilities maintenance, and dealings with contractors and building regulations; Hamilton Hadden, an architect; Jay Klancnik, former Vestry member; Linnet Tse, former Junior Warden; and Sue Wahrhaftig, former Vestry member. Bill O’Connor, president of Parish Property Management (PPM), our external property management company, also played an advisory role.

How will this project affect our use of the church during the construction period?

The church buildings will remain accessible during the construction, although certain entrances may be closed for periods of time. There will be scaffolding at times, but this will not restrict our use of the interior space. The contractor will work closely with Francisco Vargas, our buildings and grounds supervisor, to coordinate the church’s and the contractor’s needs.

How are we managing the parish’s long-term “capital” building maintenance needs on an ongoing basis?

While there is no way of preventing the normal aging of the roofs and masonry, we are planning to institute a protocol to inspect our roofs and masonry routinely, and we will seek input from Vesels and SUPERSTRUCTURES on this topic. We are enhancing the Vestry’s budget and financial planning to anticipate and incorporate: 1) an allowance for routine miscellaneous slate replacement and masonry repointing in our annual maintenance budget and 2) significant capital expenditures in our 5- and 10-year financial plans.

Are there likely to be more building “surprises” after this project is completed?

As noted earlier, SUPERSTRUCTURES has identified Priority 2 and Priority 3 projects which address the mid and longer-term exterior building requirements. Separately, we are exploring the longer-term potential interior needs of our buildings.

What do we anticipate the costs will be for the Priority 2 and Priority 3 projects identified by SUPERSTRUCTURES? How will we pay for Priority 2 and 3 work?

SUPERSTRUCTURES provided us with rough estimates for Priority 2 and Priority 3 project costs. The cost for the Priority 2 projects – the restoration of the education building parapet – is estimated to be around $500,000. The cost for the Priority 3 projects – the slate roof replacement for the church and Murray Hall buildings and the replacement of the education building roof – is estimated to be $1.4MM (at current labor and construction material prices).

While we do not anticipate starting the Priority 2 and 3 work for a number of years, the Vestry continues to explore financing alternatives, including a possible capital campaign in the early 2020s.

What are the near-term asbestos issues and how will they be addressed safely?

The WCD Group, specialists in environmental remediation work, tested for asbestos in February 2018, as part of the required pre-construction work. Not surprisingly, given the age of the flat roofs, they found areas of asbestos. Vesels will oversee the necessary remediation work and requisite air sampling, in accordance with environmental regulations. Vesels will use a separate contractor for the remediation work.

How will ongoing updates on the belltower and roofing work be provided to the parish?

We will provide updates to the parish as the work progresses, through the weekly e-newsletters, Sunday bulletins, Chimes, and email.

Whom can we contact if we have any questions or suggestions?

Please contact Ryan O’Connell, the Senior Warden. Ryan will ensure that your questions are addressed by the appropriate parties.

Additional information, including the Conditions Assessment Report prepared by SUPERSTRUCTURES, is also available on our website stjohnslarchmont.org, under the “For Members” tab.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.