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Allegheny County Courthouse Roof Restoration Reaches Halfway Point

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The Allegheny County Courthouse at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Grant Street. Scaffolding can be seen on the side of the building.

People walking along Forbes and Fifth avenues, and Ross and Grant streets will start to have a clearer path with less scaffolding as restoration of the Allegheny County Courthouse roof passes the halfway point. 

Crews have finished the outward-facing portions of the building and will move toward the interior courtyard.

Work on the 131-year-old complex's roof began last year with the removal of the structure’s nearly 450,000 original terracotta clay roof tiles. Allegheny County facilities director James Reardon said the project is about 50 percent complete and has only encountered a few holdups. Tile replication has been a bit of a challenge, Reardon said, because the process used in the late 1800s, when the building was constructed, isn’t used anymore. The new tiles, manufactured in Ohio, are designed to look exactly like the originals.

“They came and they made molds of those tiles and as they were going through the kiln and through the process, some of them were cracking,” Reardon said. “So they had to make some adjustments on their molds, add some reinforcement.”

Pittsburgh’s winter weather was already factored into the restoration, he said, so the cold only put the crews back about a month. The $10 million project for the outside of the roof was announced by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in February 2018. The notice included descriptions of new gutter installation, waterproofing and lightning protections.

Constructed between 1884-88, the courthouse design was composed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, known best for Trinity Church in Boston. County officials said it was important that the Romanesque Revival style was maintained during restoration, including the French Renaissance roof. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

After completion, Reardon said the roof will likely be inspected annually, probably from an adjacent building.

“Because of the height of the roof, a lot of it is visual. We can look at it from other buildings,” Reardon said. “[But] we may incorporate a drone.”

Credit Wendell August
Some of the products being sold using the old Allegheny County Courthouse roof tiles. The proceeds are going to benefit the Allegheny County Parks Foundation.

The old terracotta tiles were kept and turned into souvenirs like calendars, wall ornaments, and beer flights. They’re currently being sold online, with proceeds going toward the Allegheny County Parks Foundation. So far, Reardon said, 1,000 tiles have been sold, bringing in about $20,000 for the nonprofit organizations.

The roof restoration is expected to finish in the spring of 2020.

*This story was updated at 1:59 p.m. to clarify the roof project.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.