A Dome to the Sky

Founded in 1911 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Southern Methodist University (SMU) is a private university in Dallas with a mission to “create, expand and impart knowledge through teaching, research and service, shaping world changers who contribute to their communities and excel in their professions in a global society.”

The university’s more than 11,000 students come from 90 countries and all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to take advantage of small classes, hands-on research opportunities, leadership development, community service, international study and innovative programs. The university offers a strong foundation in the humanities and sciences in undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs.

In 2012, the university’s leadership undertook a project to expand the school’s campus with five new residence halls, a dining hall and a parking garage. Supreme Roofing, Dallas, was selected by the project’s general contractor, The Beck Group, Dallas, to install multiple roof systems on the dormitory buildings and dining hall, including a copper dome with a skylight, and associated copper work.

Scope of Work

Supreme Roofing began work on the multifaceted, two-year project in October 2012. Scope of work included installing internal copper gutters; more than 100 copper dormers; slate roof systems on the dormitory buildings; a two-tiered copper dome and skylight on the dining hall; and polymer-modified bitumen roof systems on the buildings’ low-slope roof areas.

Internal copper gutters

The Supreme Roofing crew installed about 4,000 linear feet of copper gutters on all six buildings. Workers attached ¾-inch-thick plywood to the framing followed by self-adhering Grace Ice & Water Shield,® a 5-inch nail base and Grace Ultra™ underlayment.

To create the copper gutters, workers broke the metal while it was in Supreme Roofing’s off-site shop and transported it to the project site for fabrication and installation. Once on-site, each gutter piece was attached using clips, laid in place and soldered—a slow, labor-intensive process.

Copper dormers

Workers also fabricated more than 100 rounded copper dormers across all residence buildings. Although the dormers were designed to be the same size, the reality of construction made each one slightly different in size, so one pattern could not be used for all. Instead, every dormer had to be uniquely designed.

For each dormer, workers took field measurements, made a cardboard template and then traced the template onto the copper pieces, which then were cut and fabricated by hand and put into place, similar to a puzzle, one piece at a time. Each piece was soldered together before placing the next piece on top. Rivets then were installed, and the pieces were welded together.

The work was time-consuming. The valleys and small pieces especially were difficult. If any gap remained, the dormers would not be weather tight; each dormer had to be meticulously built.

“Most of the custom sheet metal fabrication had to be done on-site,” says Roberto Valdez, sheet metal superintendent for Supreme Roofing. “There was no room for mistakes.”


In addition, workers installed Evergreen Slate roof systems in royal purple on the dormitory buildings’ steep-slope roof areas. The 30-person Supreme Roofing crew installed a nail base layer on the metal deck followed by Grace Ice & Water Shield and the slate.

Copper dome

One of the most challenging, intricate parts of the project was the project’s focal point—a two-tiered copper dome with a skylight on top of the dining hall.

Planning the dome’s installation required several months of time with The Beck Group’s general contractors. Unlike traditional metal roofing projects installed in a rectangular shape, SMU’s dining hall features a dome, so everything had to be installed on an angle.

Workers measured, cut and applied two layers of polyisocyanurate insulation on the metal deck. Next, two layers of 1/2-inch-thick plywood were attached followed by Grace Ultra underlayment.

Workers then fabricated and installed the copper metal roof. Because of the dome’s shape, the panels couldn’t be pre-measured and had to be fabricated on-site. Workers created a cardboard pattern and then cut and taped everything by hand, running each copper piece through the machine twice to create right and left legs that could be interlocked when installed on the roof. Each metal piece then was hand-carried to the roof by several workers and soldered onto the gutters.

The Supreme Roofing sheet metal crew then installed a skylight in the middle of the copper dome, as well as associated flashing.

Polymer-modified bitumen

In addition, Supreme Roofing workers installed polymer-modified bitumen roof systems on the low-slope roof areas on each dormitory building, as well as in front of the dormers and over the 30,000-square-foot dining hall’s low-slope roof area. Two layers of 1½-inch-thick polyisocyanurate insulation were fastened down, followed by 1/2-inch-thick USG Securock® laid in adhesive. The DynaGrip® Base sheet and Dynaweld™ Cap FR then were heat welded in place.Two layers of 11/2-inch-thick polyisocyanurate insulation were applied followed by 1/2-inch-thick USG Securock.® The base and cap then were torched in place.


Workers were tied-off 100 percent of the time while working on SMU’s buildings, including the low-slope roof areas because the wall height was not high enough to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. Temporary tie-off anchors were used at the roofs’ edges.

For the larger area on the dining hall, guardrails were used until they had to be removed to cap the roof. Warning lines then were installed, and temporary tie-off anchors were used when working outside the warning lines.

To prevent pedestrians from inadvertently walking too close to the job site, workers erected a barricaded fence.

“Safety was a major concern throughout the project, especially installing the slate on a steep-slope roof in the middle of a busy college campus with a myriad of other trades working around us,” says Tim Rainey, CEO of Supreme Roofing. “Our on-site safety directors worked closely to ensure the project was secure and incident-free.”

In addition, workers used boom lifts to safely conduct perimeter work, and toe boards were put in place and used for material storage and navigating around steep-slope roof areas. The crew moved the slate to the roof using a Skytrak® and then carried each bundle by hand to the appropriate location and placed it on the toe boards. Because of limited space, the low-slope roof areas could not be stocked, so the material was transported to the roof as needed.

Simply Beautiful

In July 2014, Supreme Roofing completed its work on SMU. During the two-year project, the crew worked through inclement weather in all seasons—winter ice storms, spring hailstorms and blazing Texas summer heat—while successfully coordinating schedules with other trades; managing multiple roof system installations; fabricating copper dormers, intricate copper metal gutters and flashing; and creating a grand copper dome.

“The roofing work was uniquely challenging, and the finished project is simply beautiful,” Valdez says. “We are all quite proud of this project.”

For exceptional craftsmanship, Supreme Roofing received an NRCA 2017 Gold Circle Award honorable mention in the Innovative Solutions: New Construction category.


Project name: Southern Methodist University
Project location: Dallas
Project duration: October 2012-July 2014
Roof system types: Copper; polymer-modified bitumen; slate
Roofing contractor: Supreme Roofing, Dallas
Roofing manufacturers: Evergreen Slate Co. Inc., Granville, N.Y.; GCP Applied Technologies Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; Johns Manville, Denver; McElroy Metal, Bossier City, La.; USG Corp., Chicago

Click here to view the article as it appeared in PROFESSIONAL ROOFING magazine.