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ARCHITECTURAL: Rebuilding a Historic Dome and Cupola

A custom sheet metal company played a vital role in a courthouse’s restoration after it was devastated by a fire.

When the historic 111-year-old Mason County Courthouse was destroyed by an arson fire in February 2021, it devastated the local Mason, Texas community. The courthouse had been a focal point in the town’s central square since 1909. It’s why the rebuild has been so meaningful — and something that Heather + Little, custom sheet metal and roofing contractors based in Markham, Ontario, have been so proud to be involved.

While the walls of the main building and its 16 surrounding columns survived the fire, the courthouse’s center dome and clock tower required replication. This is where Heather + Little stepped in. The company fabricated the courthouse’s new turnkey dome and cupola out of 0.032” pre-painted Aluminum Kynar Finish. It required approximately 110 sheets, says Mike Papania, CAHP, Executive Vice President, Operations for Heather + Little. All-in-all, the project took 3,500 man-hours for the cladding and 1,000 hours for the structural steel.

Of course, a project of this size was not without challenges. Papania says that though the company received the contract in February 2022, the ongoing ripple effects of the pandemic caused delays in the procurement of materials as well as lost manpower due to illness.

“Another challenge was the logistics of fabricating 17 pieces of structural steel and cladding each piece with aluminum,” he continues. “With a plan to bolt everything together once onsite, we had to deal with transportation and highway restrictions.”

After Mason County Courthouse was destroyed by an arson fire in 2021, Heather + Little came in to help rebuild this key feature of the Mason, Texas town square.

Papania says that the team, led by Rita Kouzak and Priscilla Lo, spent what felt like countless hours in the boardroom drawing and erasing on the whiteboard until they finally agreed on a plan to meet all of the requirements. The scope of the work included load calculations, structural and architectural design, fabrication of structural steel and sheet metal cladding, and installation of all the cladding pieces. The dome also contains four working clocks and electric chimes to simulate bells. And Heather + Little was also involved in fabricating and installing a ladder and checker plate aluminum platform inside the cupola.

Everything had to be craned into place, and then the crew installed sheet metal flashing and trim to finish the roof, says Papania.

Design work for the project spanned February to July 2022, while the fabrication of the structural steel and cladding took place from August 2022 to January 2023. Finally, the pieces were assembled and craned into place between January and April of 2023.

According to Papania, one of the most unique aspects of the project was the collaboration of all parties involved. While Heather + Little handled the load calculations, structural and architectural design, fabrication of the structural steel and sheet metal cladding, and installation of the cladding pieces, other companies were also involved. Premier MetalWerks, LLC (Alan Odem) handled assembly of the pre-clad sections, craning the unit into place, as well as the sheet metal flashing and trim. Stoddard General Contractors oversaw everything as the general contractor.

“Everyone collaborated to make this come together,” Papania says.

Founded in 1925, Heather + Little has extensive experience with projects like this one, and Papania says they have had the honor of working on many vital historical landmarks and heritage buildings. 

“We have built a reputation over the years for exceeding our client’s needs with the quality of our work, including step-by-step assessment and review across all facets of a project,” he says. “With over a century of hands-on experience, you can expect us to consider all angles and be ready with the expertise and solutions — even if a build throws us a curveball.”

The company offers custom sheet metal fabrication and preservation services for commercial, residential and industrial properties. 

Projects such as this one, says Papania, are especially meaningful.

“We were able to witness what this courthouse means to the community,” he says. “When we lifted the cupola into place, there were hundreds of people on hand, cheering.”