The Revelstoke Courthouse is the most recognizable heritage building in Revelstoke

Failing Revelstoke Courthouse roof: replace the heritage copper roof or spray it with rubber coating and paint it green?

The 16-sided green copper dome atop the Revelstoke Courthouse is renowned as an outstanding example of the Neoclassical Revivalist style building, capping off the heritage architecture icon that was lauded in media reports as “the finest building of its kind in the interior of British Columbia” when it was completed in 1913. It is topped with an eight-sided lantern that is detailed with louvered vents on each of its facets. The copper roof extends across the top of the building, its trim near the top of the exterior walls are a significant part of its overall design.

It is the crown on what is arguably Revelstoke’s most recognizable and iconic heritage building, and it’s desperately in need of repairs.

The 16-sided green copper dome atop the Revelstoke Courthouse is renowned as an outstanding example of the Neoclassical Revivalist style building, capping off the heritage architecture icon that was lauded in media reports as “the finest building of its kind in the interior of British Columbia” when it was completed in 1913. It is topped with an eight-sided lantern that is detailed with louvered vents on each of its facets. The copper roof extends across the top of the building, its trim near the top of the exterior walls are a significant part of its overall design.

After nearly 100 years of exposure to snow and sun in Revelstoke, the roof and dome have had it, and an increasingly involved patching effort is no longer doing the trick. The roof is leaking.

So what to do about it?

On July 12, Revelstoke city council is set to consider two options, both of which are subject to very preliminary costing estimates.

Option one is to replace the roof with copper, back to its original form. It is hoped this option would extend its life by another 80 years. A preliminary quote puts that cost at $313,000 — but the Times Review believes that quote is from a roofing company with little experience in this kind of heritage restoration.

The other option outlined in a July 12 report by planning director John Guenther is to hire a contractor to spray on an “elastomeric membrane” (a special rubber coating) to the roof and paint it green to mimic an oxidized copper roof. Guenther’s report says this option is estimated to cost about $150,000 and will last more than 20 years, based on a 20-year guarantee from the contractor.

The latter option, however, might run afoul of a patchwork of local, provincial and federal regulations for heritage buildings, not to mention marring the Revelstoke Heritage Register’s most prominent landmark building.

Although many might think rubber-coating a heritage building is not befitting of its stature in this community, it’s actually already too late. It seems the Revelstoke Courthouse roof and dome is already quite diminished from its original state.

The staff report notes that in the mid-1990s, before the B.C. government downloaded the vast majority of their heritage buildings onto local governments, repairs and patches were done, and the roof was painted green. The city report offers some clever heritage-historical-revisionism to justify the rubber coating and paint job this time around: “The painted green colour has become part of the building’s ongoing historical evolution and could therefore be considered a heritage-defining element that reflects the provincial government’s economic status and values at the time.”

Architect Thomas Hooper and builders Anselmo Pradolini and William Foote, however, might object. Should temporary repairs in the 1990s be added as a character-defining element of its architectural style? Right alongside the building’s symmetrical massing, Doric columns, granite plinth, porticoes and keystones? Is an elastomeric membrane to be listed alongside the locally-sourced Kootenay marble, Clayburn brick and granite?

Revelstoke Heritage Commission Chair Mike Dragani says maybe it will have to for the time being. He feels a preliminary repair might be an option while the city gets money together to replace the roof properly. Adding background to the staff report, he notes the roof has been painted at least three times, and as early as the 1970s. “It may be the way we have to go,” he said. “We can’t let the roof leak.”

The greater issue, says Dragani, is how heritage buildings are funded at the provincial level. The city acquired the building in 2003 after the Gordon Campbell government moved aggressively to download its heritage buildings. “They should have never downloaded the building in the first place,” Dragani said, adding the city did the right thing to assume ownership.

Dragani said ongoing heritage cutbacks at the provincial level means there really isn’t any money for projects like this. “They’re really not willing to put any money into heritage at all,” Dragani said of the current provincial government.

Dragani feels the best solution to the problem is a partnership between the city and the province, and to find other funding sources for the replacement. That takes time, he notes.

In Dragani’s opinion, a proper restoration of the roof will cost significantly more than the preliminary ballpark estimate of $300,000. “Who knows what will happen once you start taking it apart,” he said. “I don’t know where they came up with that price.” He also feels the $150,000 estimate for rubber coating and painting is likely low, but he did say the rubber coatings have been done well on other major heritage restoration projects.

Dragani also noted there is a disconnect between city hall and the heritage commission on some heritage issues. For example, city hall had planned to add a new exterior insulation to the heritage Art Deco-style Revelstoke City Hall building in 2010, but that plan got kiboshed at the last minute after heritage objections were raised. Dragani said he felt staff were working hard, and didn’t criticize them; but rather said everyone needed to work closer together on heritage issues. “The city staff doesn’t seem to think about the heritage value when they’re going about their day to day business. Maybe we need to find a mechanism where that becomes a little more automatic,” he said. “Unfortunately, we find out about these things at the last second.”

This was the case with plans for the Revelstoke Courthouse roof. In late June, council had already put a $300,000 borrowing bylaw in motion for the project when Coun. Chris Johnston asked staff to consult the heritage commission about the renovation, which they then did. Dragani said if they had a year or two, the commission may have had luck getting money together from sources other than municipal taxpayers.

Update, July 13:

Update

At their July 12 regular meeting, council opted to issued tender requests for both options as soon as a full evaluation report on the state of the roof is complete.

Public Works operations manager Darren Komonoski said the city would likely receive interest from a number of bidders. “We’ll get some response for sure,” Komonoski said.

The plan is to do the work in September, unless the rainy season sets in early, in which case Komonoski said it could be postponed until next year. He added that September was as good a month as any to do the job, which is expected to take about three or four weeks.

Coun. Chris Johnston said he felt the copper roof option was best. “I think it might be appropriate to do it right the first time,” Johnston said.

When asked by a councillor, Komonoski agreed, saying the longer-term copper replacement “is your best option.”