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Chapel roof restoration ahead of schedule

The restoration of Duke Chapel's roof is ahead of schedule as the rest of campus anticipates the icon's reopening.

The Chapel, which has been under construction since May, is undergoing its largest renovation since its completion in 1932. More than 80 workers—working 10 hours per day and six days per week—have been replacing the lead-coated copper roof, stabilizing the limestone framework and working on various projects both inside and outside the chapel, explained Ray Walker, Duke Facilities Management project manager and staff architect, during a media tour of the Chapel Thursday. 

Set to be completed in time for the Class of 2016's commencement, the restoration project is ahead of schedule, said Paul Manning, director of Duke's Office of Project Management.

“It will look just like it did,” Manning said. “You won’t be able to see any change, you will just say ‘Boy, it looks good.’”

Although the Chapel temporarily traded its place of worship for a maze of plywood, scaffolding and construction lights, the renovation project is highly necessary, Manning noted.

In recent years, mortar dust and small pieces of limestone have been found on the floor in the Chapel—a consequence of structural destabilization caused by the aging of clay tiles in the ceiling.

To address structural concerns, Duke’s normal scaffolding company had to obtain scaffolding from multiple locations to have enough for the project, Walker explained, noting the large amount of resources the project requires as one of its main challenges.

Despite the obstacles, the project management team is relishing the opportunity to work on the facility's first large-scale project since it opened.

“This is an exciting project for us," Manning said. "It is only once in a lifetime that you have the ability to work on an 80-year-old chapel as beautiful as this one. Buildings, like people, have lives, and the life of this one was starting to get old at 80 years old, and so it was time for a little fix-up.”

In addition to replacing the lead-coated copper roof and stabilizing the limestone framework, several projects inside the Chapel are underway. The pews and woodwork are being restored, along with the six remaining stained-glass windows that have not been restored in the past decade. Also on the list for internal improvements are a new electric transformer and a new audio-visual system for broadcasts of services.

Among those counting the days before the restoration is complete and the Chapel reopens are members of the Duke Chapel congregation, which has been meeting in Page Auditorium during the project. 

“One of the things that the chapel community has begun to embrace as a new theme because of this year is being in a chapel without walls," said Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at the Divinity School. "We have had the opportunity…to live outside of these walls this year.” 

Powery noted that the Duke and Durham communities have helped the congregation adjust to its new facility, but a return to the Chapel is greatly anticipated.

“It is going to be great,” Powery said. “There is something about this space—and coming together—that is distinct.”

Correction: This article was updated to correct erroneous spelling. The Chronicle regrets the error.