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Preservationists raise the roof, but U takes it down

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Preservationists raise the roof, but U takes it down

By Kathy Hulik

Despite complaints from historic preservationists, University of Michigan officials have decided to proceed with replacement of a roof on the campus’ third oldest building.

Work was temporarily stopped this week on replacing an 88-year old slate roof on Tappan Hall with asphalt shingles, but U-M officials said this morning the project has again been given a go-ahead.

The building, located near South University Avenue between the art museum and the president’s house, is the third oldest structure on the campus. It is also sorely in need of roof repair, and University of Michigan officials decided to replace the old slate with the new shingles.

HOWEVER, UNIVERSITY personnel and representatives of the city’s Historic District Commission say the decision should have been reached more carefully, with consultation by a review committee.

The old slate has worn well. It is the original roof, put on the building when it was constructed in 1893. However, it now is crumbling and leaking. There are places where one can easily see the sky.

But because the entire central campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and because the substitution of asphalt for slate is considered by some to be a major change in the building’s appearance, opposition has arisen both to the way the decision was made as well as the use of different material

THE TAPPAN ROOF is also the last sloped roof with slate tiles left on campus after the demolition of Barbour-Waterman gymnasium, still a sore point with some preservationists in the city.

Louisa Pieper of the city’s Historic District Commission said she was unaware of the change until a passerby during the art fairs last Friday told her of seeing scaffolding around the building and piles of asphalt singles nearby. When she and Marjorie Reade, the commission chairman, checked it out, they found that the University did indeed intend to replace the slate with asphalt.

The commission sent a letter of protest to U-M President Harold T. Shapiro, stating that a change of this kind “deserves the most careful research and consideration.” Work on the project was suspended Monday while Reade met with John P. Weidenback, U-M director of business operations.

WEIDENBACH SAID this morning that the University will go ahead with the $55,000 project, and that the decision was made after consultation with the University planner and architect. Replacing the existing roof with another made of slate, he said, would increase the cost by 4.5 to 5 percent, and added that slate is very difficult to find.

In addition to new roofing, the project will include new gutters, downspouts and insulation. Weidenbach said the asphalt will approximate the color of the original slate and the same trim will be used. He called the project one of preservation, not restoration, and added it would not preclude the University from someday applying slate over the asphalt.

David C. Huntington, a history of art professor and tenant of Tappan Hall, is unhappy with the project. “I am concerned because the department had not been appraised of this move to remove the old slate roof,” he said. “The building is a historic landmark and a fine old structure.

“THERE SEEMS TO BE the need of a faculty or interested party review committee which could deal with significant changes in the appearance of buildings and grounds on campus.”

Huntington said the asphalt roof may well be the most judicious route to take with the old building but added, “I don’t like to have things sprung without any warning.”

W. Geoffrey Shepherd, professor of economics, said the issue is whether the University would “mutilate” the building to save money. “It’s like a bald man wearing a bad toupee,” he said. “The ideal form would be a committee, with all such matters reviewed.”

The roof in question

The roof of Tappan Hall, showing some of fhe missing tiles. The University of Michigan is planning to replace the tile roof with asphalt shingles despite protests from preservationists.