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After damaging 2013 hailstorm, Boys Town replacing roofs on 27 buildings — many with tiles handmade in Turkey

This story was written by Colleen Fell and was published on November 4th, 2015 in the Omaha World-Herald.

Each terra-cotta ​roofing tile is handmade and sent by boat from Turkey before arriving at Boys Town.

The tiles are being used to replace roofs severely damaged in the Omaha hailstorms of 2013.

Boys Town is replacing the roofs on 27 buildings, with about 24,000 tiles needed for each roof. The buildings being repaired include dormitories, family-style student housing, a dining hall and the Dowd Memorial Chapel. To help pay for the project, Boys Town took advantage of a new state tax credit to help restore historic buildings.

The new historic tax credit program, run by the Nebraska State Historical Society’s State Historic Preservation Office, is providing $14.9 million in tax credits its first year.

About $3.1 million has been allotted for the 27 Boys Town buildings. Kara Neuverth, a spokeswoman for Boys Town, said the tax credits will cover about 20 percent of the total cost of renovations.

To qualify, a building must be on the National Register of Historic Places, be designated a historic place under a local preservation ordinance or be within a historic district. Boys Town is currently the only National Historic Landmark District in Nebraska.

If a building is owned by a nonprofit organization, such as Boys Town, the organization can sell its tax credits to a financial organization to generate cash.

To preserve the buildings’ historic status, any changes to their exteriors must match the original structures. The roofs at Boys Town haven’t been replaced since they were first put on in the 1930s, said John Kava, senior director of facilities at Boys Town. He said the roofs could have lasted another 20 years “if it wasn’t for Nebraska weather.”

Kava said the roofs would have been replaced even without the tax credits, but it would have taken longer to raise the funds, as insurance didn’t cover all the repairs.

The process for replacing the roofs is lengthy. It takes about six weeks to install the tiles, with larger dormitory roofs taking up to eight weeks.

Renaissance Roofing Inc., which specializes in historic buildings, is responsible for the renovations at Boys Town. Kai Loema, the company’s field superintendent, said work on the roofs began in the summer of 2014 and should wrap up by the end of 2016.

The time frame for when a roof can be completed depends on when the tile is delivered, Loema said. For buildings with the handmade tiles from the Turkish manufacturer Sahtas, it takes a month to make the tiles and another two to three weeks to ship the order to the U.S.

The tiles come in variations of six colors and three textures, and each tile must match the original. If not, it gets returned to the factory.

“They usually have to make three tiles to get one right,” Loema said.

Kava said Boys Town shipped original roofing tiles to the manufacturer so the new tiles could be hand-stamped to match.

“The textiles are similar, but no two roofs are identical,” Loema said.

Many of the buildings are also getting new windows and copper gutters. The copper roof also will be replaced on the building housing the tomb of Father Edward J. Flanagan, who founded Boys Town in 1917 in a rundown Victorian mansion in downtown Omaha. It moved to its current location four years later.

Kava said he hopes the renovations will help sustain tourism at Boys Town. The campus near 132nd Street and West Dodge Road draws about 100,000 visitors each year.

The historical society received 58 applications requesting $17.5 million in tax credits for 2015. Funds were awarded to 46 projects, including the 27 buildings at Boys Town.

Qualified projects can receive a 20 percent state income tax credit, up to $1 million for a single project. Each building at Boys Town qualifies as a separate project.

Bob Puschendorf, deputy state historic preservation officer at the Nebraska State Historical Society, said the tax credits have drawn a lot of interest.

He said the applications were received by early January, and the funds were distributed within a couple of weeks. Those not receiving tax credits were placed on a waiting list for next year.

The program, which has a limit of $15 million a year, is set to expire in 2019.

Other projects assisted by the 2015 credits include the Flatiron Building, 1722 St. Mary’s Ave. in Omaha, and the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Columbus. The credits also are funding renovations at Moon Block, a building in Red Cloud that is mentioned in some Willa Cather novels.

Kava said Boys Town residents can’t tell the difference between the new and old roofs, which is what he wants.

“We’ve had people ask ‘Why did you put a new roof on? They look the same,’ ” Kava said.

He said the renovations help to preserve a piece of history, especially for alumni.

“We like to keep it looking like home,” Kava said.