- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - Every time it rained in downtown Dallas, the staff of the Old Red Museum would rush to stop water from streaming down the walls and through the ceilings of the historic county courthouse.

“We were like Ghostbusters,” said Zac Harmon, the museum’s executive director. “We threw on our overalls and went to the attic.”

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1PTAPX5 ) reports then the staff came up with another solution - about a dozen plastic kiddie pools to catch the leaks.

Now officials are proposing a more permanent solution for the iconic downtown landmark.

Dallas County officials hope to replace the deteriorating slate roof with synthetic tiles that can better weather Texas heat and hail. The new roof would cost about $1.6 million, about $400,000 less than natural slate.

But first it has to gain the approval of the Texas Historical Commission. State officials have been willing to consider synthetic materials, but it’s not clear if the proposal will gain approval.

Texas Historical Commission officials rarely get requests to use synthetic materials and they encourage use of original or natural materials, spokesman Chris Florance said. He said they consider the appearance, cost and durability of the material.

The Old Red Courthouse, which was built in 1892, resembles a giant red sandcastle in downtown Dallas. It is made of red sandstone and granite, with turrets and wyverns, the winged statues that look like gargoyles. The striped roof includes three colors: federal gray, sage green and stone red.

There have been no county offices in the building for more than two decades. In the early 2000s, Old Red got a multimillion-dollar renovation and restoration with funds from Dallas County and local philanthropists. The museum opened in 2007 and rents rooms on the fourth floor for private events such as weddings or business meetings.

Although the inside of Old Red was restored, its roof has continued to age. It was last replaced in the late 1980s, and over the years, its slate tiles have cracked and fallen, leaving parts of the building exposed.

Weddings pose particular problems. Heavy rains have left behind water stains on the ceilings of rooms rented for wedding ceremonies and receptions, and in the bridal suite, water has trickled down the wall. One time, chandeliers had to be emptied of pools of water.

David Guzman, the museum’s operations director, said the leaks often occurred when the museum had no scheduled events. During weddings and parties, though, staff would “have buckets and tarps on standby,” he said.

Guzman said he has grown used to heading to the attic with a flashlight and listening for the drips.

“It’s never a stress-free day when it rains,” he said.

Staff would hurry to re-plaster and repaint the walls if an event was coming up.

Several months ago, Old Red’s tattered roof interrupted the day of one unlucky driver. A piece of roof fell and slammed into the back of a parked pickup.

Although no one was hurt, the incident shocked the pickup’s owner, Harmon said.

“My first thought was ‘I hope nobody’s hurt,’” Harmon said.

His second thought? “This roof has got to be fixed,” he recalled.

Dallas County paid the driver $2,000 for truck repairs.

Since then, Dallas County has repaired some of the roof’s falling tiles and begun quarterly reviews to check for loose pieces.

In the coming months, Dallas County officials will go to Austin to talk to the Texas Historical Commission about the roof project and make a pitch for synthetic tiles.

The tile, made with recycled rubber and plastic, has a similar texture and matches the three colors of the existing roof, said Rick Loessberg, the county’s planning and development director. He said he will present both tile options and Dallas County “will do whatever the state recommends or instructs us to do.”

Loessberg acknowledged the idea of synthetic tile on Old Red might set off alarm bells for some. But from yards away, he said it’s impossible to tell the difference. The new roof would maintain Old Red’s iconic look.

“You are not going to put aluminum siding on a log cabin,” he said. “We would not want to put an inappropriate roof on a historic building like this.”

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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