Roland Park Civic League Backs Plan to Keep Clay Tile Roof on School

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Photo by Ed Gunts
Photos by Ed Gunts

In a city where some public schools don’t even have working water fountains, should the school system spend $1 million to put a historically-accurate clay tile roof on a school in Roland Park?

That was the issue debated Wednesday night during the monthly meeting of the Roland Park Civic League, the community organization whose jurisdiction includes the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School at 5207 Roland Avenue.

Baltimore City Public Schools representatives disclosed last month that the school’s recently installed clay tile roof suffered damage during January’s 29-inch snowstorm, with some tiles falling off, and must be replaced, even though it is less than six months old. They indicated that this time they plan to use less expensive asphalt shingle tiles, instead of clay tiles similar to those originally used on the 1924 building. Workers erected scaffolding around the building last month, but the actual roof replacement work has not begun.

Roland Park Public roof construction

The school system’s latest plan has drawn criticism from a former president of the Wyndhurst Improvement Association, architect James Determan, who argued the Roland Avenue school is a civic asset and should not be “dumbed down” with an inferior roof that is not in keeping with the original design.

The board of the Roland Park Civic League agreed with Determan, voting 12 to 0 last night to ask the school system to use clay tiles for the new roof rather than asphalt shingles.

The vote came after Civic League president Chris McSherry asked board members whether they thought the organization should be on record as requesting a more expensive roof when other schools in the city don’t have the basics.

Roland Park Public roof construction

McSherry asked board members to consider how it would look if “Roland Park is screaming about a clay tile roof when other schools don’t even have working water fountains. That’s the other side of the coin…Getting a clay tile roof means $1 million doesn’t go to some other project in the city” this year.

McSherry said she didn’t disagree with Determan but wanted the board members at least to think about how their position might affect other schools in the city. She described the material they want to use for the next roof as “a pretty ugly asphalt shingle.”

Determan, who spoke at length about the roof issue during the meeting, said the school system chose the appropriate material when it put on the last roof and shouldn’t change course now. “It was the right answer two years ago, and it’s still the right answer,” he said.

Determan pointed to a nine-page report that the school system commissioned about the failed roof and how to fix it. He noted that the lead consultant, Restoration Engineering Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia, recommended reinstalling clay tiles for the repair, as long as they are put on properly, with the appropriate installation of snow guards.

Besides being historically accurate, Determan said, a clay tile roof is more “sustainable” because it will last 50 years or more whereas an asphalt shingle roof has an expected life span of 15 to 20 years. He stressed that saving and reusing as many clay tiles as possible would be more in keeping with the city’s “green building” standards.

No representatives from Baltimore City Public Schools were present at the Civic League meeting. Schools system CEO Gregory Thornton has been replaced since last month’s disclosure about the need for a new roof.

With its vote, the Roland Park Civic League is the latest of several community groups that have indicated support for putting a historically-accurate clay tile roof on the school, along with Preservation Maryland and the Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Determan said he and others plan to attend the next meeting of the school board to express concern for the way the roof replacement project has been handled.


Ed Gunts

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  1. These must be the same people who put in the bike lane putting drivers at significant risk

  2. The reporter did not disclose from this meeting that part of the report cited in this article actually does mention that the roof has failed because of several deficiencies in how it was installed. And the city should be able to litigate a financial resolution to help defray costs. A major issue considered by the civic league is that taxpayers already spent a million dollars 2 years ago and those tiles should not just be torn off and thrown away. If there is a way to save them and install the proper roof correctly then that is the preference of the community.

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