Commercial/Recreational – St. Gregory’s Church

Project Name: Portsmouth Abby St Gregory’s Church
Location: 285 Corey’s Lane, Portsmouth, RI 02871
Construction Start Date: 4/01/2008
Scheduled Completion: 3/31/2009
Square Footage: The Church consists of 7,450 square feet in the lower and upper nave, 1,200 square foot altar/sacristy and 5,350 square feet in the clerestory, totaling 14,000 square feet.

Project Description: The Church of Saint Gregory the Great, the centerpiece of the Portsmouth Abbey campus symbolizes the Benedictine brothers’ cultivation of learning and liturgy.

The church itself is octagonal in shape, with a 35 ft high eight sided clerestory dome comprised of cedar timber framing and stained glass located above the naïve. The clerestory was experiencing cracking stain glass and numerous leaks due to deflection of the existing wooden structure. The building was modeled and analyzed under wind loading to study it’s lateral drift to determine the best solution to this problem.

During design development by Newport Collaborative Architects, Odeh Engineers and Gale Associates, ADV provided the owner with constructability of design review and cost estimating.

The final determination required the replacement of all the structural cedar window framing and exterior cedar trim with new cedar members and steel supports and anchors to stiffen these window walls. Now the team got to work on designing a building envelope that would withstand the elements and still give the appearance of the original design, inside and out. Flashing, waterproofing, ventilation, and glazing details where worked out.

Work Performed: ABC acted as the construction manager to deliver the project within budget and schedule providing value add upgrades requested by the owner without exceeding the overall owner’s budget. The work was started in the late spring after graduation and had to be completed before the 2009 Easter Celebration.

The work included: Removal of the complete upper clerestory framing and installation of all new cedar structural timbers, installation of steel plates, brackets and tensioning rods. Cataloging, removal and reinstallation of the stain-glass window arrays. Installation of a storm window system over the stain glass arrays. Removal of the copper roof, replacement of rotted structural decking, installation of wafer-board insulation over the deck, new copper roofing and flashings and skylight restoration. Installation of new naïve lighting and associated wiring and refinishing of all the existing interior wood work and wood flooring.

The structural cedar beams that made up the exterior wall framing where also the window frames for the 2800 pieces of stained glass, each of the structural framing members needed to be milled, fit, trimmed, and installed like a piece of casework. The details incorporated into the new design would resolve the water infiltration problems this building has been inundated with in the past.

Value Engineering: ABC led the owner & design team thru the design development process insuring that the design and finish product met parameters for constructability, durability and value to provide the owner with the highest quality end products and systems that exceeded the design intent. This was completed using a total team approach where vendors, subcontractors, engineers, architects and the owner met and reviewed all options available. .

Unique Construction Aspects: The project had a few unique challenges that you would not expect to encounter;

The first was the long lead time and limited availability of the oversized cedar beams that made up the framing of the clearstories. The western red cedar timbers required for this project were only available from one source in the Northwest USA and British Columbia, Canada. Finding a tree that ADV had already identified some of the challenges we could provide 30 foot clear cedar 2 X 12 materials was a challenge for the lumberjacks as well. This was exacerbated by one of the wettest springs in the British Columbia area which made logging nearly impossible. In addition, old growth cedar trees of the size we needed were nestled in the center of large pine forests. Due to the international downturn in lumber orders, it was very difficult to convince the loggers to cut 50 to 100 pine and other species of trees they could not sell to get one of the cedar trees we needed.

Another challenge related to the cedar framing came when the wood was delivered from the west coast. The wood was rough sawn, green, wet, and sometimes frozen solid with ice from the truck ride across the country. When it arrived on the east coast the wood was then sent off to a local kiln in western Massachusetts, where it was dried to 18-20% moisture content. ADV set-up a milling operation and a mini kiln first inside the school’s hockey rink then in a makeshift tent on campus.

The second challenge was coordinating the removal and reinstallation of the wire art sculpture with all the normal building trades. The gold wire sculpture wove thru the wood structure of the nave and altar of the church and had to be fully removed prior to ADV starting any of the restoration work. Working with artist, Howard Newman, of Newmans, Ltd., and his staff was very different than the subcontractor model we normally work with. As a builder we plan our work systematically to a process and schedule, the artist has no process or schedule, they work task by task and figures it out as they go along. Trying to layout a plan and schedule with an organization that does not think in the same terms as a contractor can be difficult, yet very rewarding when it all came together in the end.

The third challenge ADV faced was the removal and restoration of the stained glass window walls, all 2800 pieces had to be cataloged for color, location and glass type. The stained glass was then tagged, removed and transported off site where the glass was cleaned, and broken pieces replaced with new pieces that matched the color and glass makeup. This all had to be coordinated and scheduled with the window wall framing to ensure the glass was installed back into the window system at it’s original location.

The final and possibly the most signification challenge ADV faced once the sculpture and stained glass was removed was replacing the exterior cedar framed clearstory walls and reinforce the glue-lam skeleton. The structural modification to the existing eight sided heavy glue-lam skeleton was to say the least a new experience. Each intersection needed to be templated, to accomplish this carpenters fabricated full size mockups of the steel brackets, some 5’ in length. The templates would be delivered to the steel fabricator so they could fabricate these large custom beam brackets. When the brackets arrived onsite the carpenters would mortise them into the heavy glue-lam beams. When all steel brackets where installed the 1.25” diameter, 40’ long steel rod X bracing could be installed and tensioned. This unique exterior wall system is one of a kind, there was a bit of a learning curve through the first of the eight clearstory walls.

Design Engineers: NCA; Newport Collaborative Architects
Odeh; Odeh Engineers; Structural Engineers
Gale Associates

Delivery Method: Construction Manager; where the CM is also the constructor.

Project Photos:

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