Original roof of Main Hall to be replaced for first time in 136-year history

The original mansard roof of Main Hall will be replaced starting this summer, adding a new chapter to an iconic Denver structure that has endured 136 years of Colorado weather and has welcomed generations of students, faculty and staff on the Northwest Denver Campus. 

The project, which emphasizes maintaining the roof’s original appearance, will take two years to complete. Work will begin this summer on the south and west sides of the building. In 2024, crews will begin working on the north and east sides of the building.

A mansard roof has a staggering pitch of about 70 degrees on the sides with a 30-degree pitch roof at the top.

Mike Redmond, associate vice president of the physical plant and capital projects, said the roof has been on the University’s deferred maintenance list for several years. After an inspection, this year, the physical plant decided it was time for the replacement.

“We did some more inspections on the roof and noticed that it was deteriorating; the wall systems and everything were deteriorating,” he said. “So, with that, we just got it on the schedule.”

Surviving for more than a century is no easy feat — especially after decades of exposure to snow, rain, hail, and sun. But because the materials offered protection against the elements, the roof managed to survive. The historic blue mansard roof, which has been painted at least 12 times over the years, was originally constructed from tin shingles, a popular roofing material in 1887 when Main Hall was completed. In addition to the pitch of the roof, which allowed portions to stay dry and avoid the worst of the weather exposure, the layers upon layers of paint helped maintain the roof.

“If you cover it up with the right type of product, it'll hold on, and it will do really well, but the problem with that is behind the walls is wood framing that we know now is starting to deteriorate,” Redmond said. “It's not in jeopardy of collapsing or anything like that, it just is deteriorating at the joints. We definitely have to replace that and make it happen.” 

The materials couldn’t last forever — and some of them pose a hazard. The historic building techniques mean crews will have to take safety precautions to ensure people avoid lead exposure from the layers of paint. Caring for historic buildings, Redmond said, is a complicated process.

“It's complex in nature dealing with the old going to new,” he said. “You're also working with hazardous materials, like asbestos and lead based paint … but you want to keep what you call the architectural theme, and the shell of the building, original. And that's what we try to do all the time.”

When crews start construction, they will use a new metal roof crafted to look the same as the original tin roof. Since the building was not insulated when it was built, neither was the roof. Crews will add insulation as they work on the roof. They also will replace the windows on the fourth floor, allowing for more energy efficiency.

As Regis legend has it, Main Hall was completed in just 100 days in 1887 after magazine publisher and automobile entrepreneur John Brisben Walker, for whom Walker’s Pub is named,donated land to the Jesuit priests who operated the University. The University moved to Colorado, operating in a space near Red Rocks, from New Mexico 10 years earlier after Bishop Joseph Projectus Machebeuf invited the priests to bring the school to Colorado. While building the structure in 100 days is impressive, that feat applies only the exterior shell of the building — it likely took much longer to complete the inside. Over the years, Main Hall’s use has evolved, from classrooms, open sleeping areas on the third floor for students and living quarters for the Jesuits on the fourth floor to classrooms and offices today.

In more recent decades, the physical plant has gone through the building, gradually making upgrades while maintaining the historical integrity of Main Hall. The ceilings of the first and second floors, once tin, are now aluminum, and the marble floors were an original part of the building. In 2014, the top portion of the Main Hall roof was replaced.

Main Hall’s iconic blue mansard roof is accompanied by another famous structure — the cupola that sits atop the building. Weighing in at 68,000 pounds, the original cupola was so heavy that it started to go sideways, causing the University to make the decision to remove it in about 1950. In 2006, the cupola was replaced with much lighter fiberglass material — by 18,000 pounds — and contains a T-Mobile cell tower. 

As the project gets started, scaffolding will be placed around the building. After the roof is completed, Redmond anticipates that it will last for 50 to 60 more years, maintaining its familiar look.

“When you look at the older pictures, you want to say, ‘OK, it's had an upgrade, but it looks the same as it originally did,’” Redmond said. “So, I think that's really important, especially when you look at a university.”

In August 2021, the roof of Carroll Hall – which has a 49 degree pitch – was replaced by local contractor Academy Roofing, Inc. The challenging project was highlighted by Roofing Magazine. Standard roof pitches are between 14 and 36 degrees.

This summer, the Regis Physical Plant will oversee 18 other construction projects, including: 

  • Construction of a new brewery facility in St. Peter Claver, S.J. Hall
  • Moving the Cyber and Computer Science space from the Denver Tech Center Campus, which is now closed, to the Clarke Hall basement.
  • Installation of new water fountains with water bottle fillers in the Dayton Memorial Library, Field House, and DeSmet Hall
  • Repairing the chiller
  • Concrete replacements in fire lanes
  • The addition of a new brick surface for pedestal of the statue of St. Ignatius