Aesthetic & Durable
Midwest fabricator gains renown for expertise with cladding materials
By Corinna Petry

northern Illinois fabricator recently supplied copper tiles that installers wrapped around a new grade school in Rochester, Minnesota. It’s one of the signature projects that Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. has become known for.

This project began with a 2019 bond referendum. Rochester’s schools were becoming crowded and the district needed voter approval for a new educational site that would be flexible enough to meet varying enrollment numbers well into the future.

The first of four schools funded with a $171 million bond, Overland Elementary opened in August 2021. LHB, a Minneapolis architecture firm that has experience designing schools, specified copper flat lock tiles from Sheet Metal Supply Ltd.

“The community and district stakeholders wanted a building that would feature ample light, was functional, timeless and energy efficient,” says Kelly Martinez, project architect at LHB. “The copper flat lock tiles were chosen due to their durability and longevity, creating a low life-cycle cost. Once on the building, they should be virtually maintenance free for the life of the school. They will also provide a changing aesthetic for several years as they patina over time,” she says.

we developed very specific machines and tooling to make that tile.
ben kweton, sheet metal supply ltd.
The tiles define the main community areas of the building, such as the entry and cafeteria, media center, and group learn areas of each classroom wing.

Innovative Building Concepts of Burnsville, Minnesota, worked with Grayslake, Illinois-based Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. to optimize the tile size for both production and economic efficiency while maintaining the aesthetic that the architects intended.

Young apprentice
Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. Vice President Ben Kweton, says his now-retired father, President Phil Kweton, founded the company in 1991 after working for years in commercial and industrial roofing. His father became exasperated with the quality of work provided by local sheet metal fabricators and one evening, he ordered a handbrake so Ben Kweton’s “first exposure to architectural metal was from one end of that handbrake.” The equipment was replaced by an autobrake when he left for college.

Father and son initially ran the business from a 16-foot by 30-foot garage. After Ben’s graduation, the two men gradually built up the company so that now, “we have 80,000 square feet and 31 employees, and we are shipping product all over North America,” Kweton says.

Overland Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota
Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. manufactured the flat lock tiles, made of copper, to cover the facade of Overland Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota.
The fabrication shop runs multiple mechanical press brakes, a 21-foot-long bidirectional folder, four 10-foot-long autobrakes, four shears ranging from 10 to 20 feet long, and two AXYZ Automation System routers for making tiles from aluminum composite material.

“Tile is one of the products we love. We developed very specific tooling and very specific machines dedicated to making that tile,” Kweton says.

The company makes tile from zinc, Cor-Ten steel, stainless steel and painted aluminum, in addition to copper. Shapes include square, rectangle and diamond. Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. developed its own templates for those shapes. This specialization was necessary because “no longer can you cut out a rectangle and cut four corners at 45-degree angles and call that a tile,” Kweton explains. The tiles already have notches where the fastener clips are inserted by the installer. This way, he says, “the installer knows where the clips should go and the panels fit together even better.”

Big and small
The fabrication shop is accustomed to supplying tiles for a wide variety of jobs. Says Kweton, “We had a restaurant in Kansas City that needed only 138 tiles, and we knocked those out in a couple days. But we have also had projects with 18,000 tiles. So orders come in all shapes and sizes. We have some standard sizes so that we can optimize sheets in inventory.”
Copper sheet blanks
Copper sheet blanks are ready to be bent and folded into tiles and other components of building exteriors.
The company supplied zinc tiles that measured 2 by 3 feet and 2 by 6 feet for a project at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and has also produced tiles as small as 7 by 7 inches.

Nearly all copper coil and sheet is sourced direct from U.S. mills but a few purchases are made on the spot market. “We make roof panels so the coils feed that operation. And the sheets are for tile and flashing,” Kweton says.

Ideal material
Innovative Building Concepts installed more than 13,000 square feet of 16-ounce copper flat lock tiles at Overland Elementary.

“When it comes to aesthetic durability, there are few materials that can rival copper’s natural qualities, making it ideal for wall cladding installations,” says Kweton. “Alloys are great materials to use for facades due to their durability, recyclability and interesting natural reaction to their environment to create a pleasing patina. Innovative Building Concepts was a great company to work with, and we were able to fabricate their tiles within a few weeks.”

“The system is really simple to work with the way Sheet Metal Supply gives it to us,” says Derek Halla, estimator at Innovative Building Concepts. “Two adjacent sides of each tile fold over the tiles next to them and the other two sides fold under, then they’re fastened with a clip. To me,” he says, “the [school’s] entrance really stands out on this project. The copper, the sloped soffits—it is quite unique.”

copper roofing
Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. supplies roofing and cladding materials for a wide variety of projects, including industrial, commercial, institutional and residential.
Overland Elementary was built to serve more than 700 students. The structure features three two-story classroom wings with support areas that include flexible space for small group instruction, student collaboration and project-based learning. The main entry opens to the cafeteria and the core of the building has shared spaces such as the gymnasium, art and music rooms, and auxiliary support spaces for classes and the community.

Creating an energy-efficient and healthy building were among the project goals, so special care was used when choosing building materials.

In terms of appearance, “every occupied space in the building has a sight line to the exterior,” says Kevin Holm, project principal at LHB. “The copper is an eye-catching piece on the exterior that frames much of that exterior glass. It will be fun for the community to watch it change over time.”

According to Kweton, his team is proud of the company’s reputation for fabricating products for high-quality projects. “We have a wide network of partners we work with, and our name is well known for such projects.”

Sheet Metal Supply Ltd., Grayslake, Illinois, 847/478-8500,