December 2, 2018

It’s done! It’s done!

If only we had a really high structure to shout from…Oh wait, we do!

THE CATHEDRAL BELL TOWER WORK IS COMPLETE!

Our Bell Tower has been completely restored to its full 190-feet of glory. 

This has been an exceedingly drawn-out project—more than 600 days—so I thought I’d recap how it all came together.

The first few months of 2017 were a little rocky in terms of facilities.   As we worked through our list of capital projects, we were doing all sorts of evaluations and engineering studies.  We knew that the     Cathedral front and the Bell Tower both needed significant work, but it was our hope we could spend 2017 celebrating our Centennial with a construction-free campus. 

Apparently, our buildings didn’t get the memo.

In February, a piece of granite fell out of the Cathedral front.  As falls  go, it was more of a flop into the mulch than a fall, but an alarming occurrence nonetheless.  The decision was made to restore the     Cathedral front immediately.

In April 2017, a small piece of limestone broke off from the Bell Tower and fell from the 130-foot  level.  The danger was clear, and Cloister was immediately closed.

Since the same team of contractors, engineers and architects was working on both projects, for a short time, we considered doing both the front and  the Tower simultaneously.   We quickly came to our senses and decided to do one major project at a time.  The Tower work was postponed until 2018.

We set a start date for March 2018,  and though the weather was still a bit dicey, we began establishing work site.  It took about three weeks to get the scaffolding installed, which included a day with a large crane lifting the work decks into the Cloister.

Then, finally, the work began.  As with the Cathedral front, the Tower was a take-apart-and-put-back-together project.  The engineers     created a complete schematic for each elevation that showed each stone piece and indicated how it was to be treated.   We had more than a dozen different ways to address broken, cracked or displaced stones.

My notes from a July 11 team meeting showed that much of the  “taking-apart” was done by then and the “putting-back-together” had begun.  Looking at pictures from the summer, it was hard to imagine the Tower would ever be whole again.

But then the new and reworked stone arrived and each day more of the gaping holes were filled with spotless limestone.  Beautiful!

Considerable work was also being done inside at the belfry level.  That area was the access point for much of the water that did the damage over the last 60 years, so much effort was taken to repair the interior and set up systems to prevent new water damage.  The copper scupper on the south elevation is a visible sign of this work.

As the work wound down this fall, the pressure washer came out and each elevation was completely cleaned.  As we remember from the front, this makes a tremendous different in the overall appearance. 

The new lightbulbs in the belfry are also a welcome site.  I haven’t driven west on I-80 in the dark since they were relit.  I wonder if you can still see the Tower as you approach the DesPlaines bridge like when I was a kid?

Once the scaffolding was down and the heavy equipment taken away, the work to restore the Cloister began.  The St. Teresa of Calcutta Prayer Garden has been re-installed with new pavers and a slightly different arrangement.  We chose not to put in the water fountain  because frankly, the water spray made more mess than anything.   We have a plan to add a water wall in the spring.

And then there was the grass.  As expected, it was torn up by all of the heavy equipment.  Just before Thanksgiving, beautiful sod was laid in the Cloister and the front yard.   It was promptly blanketed in snow but all the experts tell us to expect a beautiful green lawn in the spring.

When the crew left last week, it marked the first time we didn’t have a construction crew onsite or scheduled to be onsite since 2014.   Thanks to the generosity of our parishioners and the Diocese of Joliet, we’ve been able to make practical  and substantive improvements to the Cathedral campus.  It’s been quite a ride, but we all should be proud that we’ve enhanced the safety, security and beauty of the Cathedral campus for parishioners and visitors now and in the future.


How do you restore a 190-foot tower?

One stone at a time according to Roman Palmer and Martin      Komperda.    Roman and Martin are two of the good guys from Ward Contracting and Building Restoration who worked on the Tower from start to finish.  I brought them lunch their last week here (Merichkas’s poor boys.  What else?) and asked them a bit about the job.

As much as this is a unique project for us, for Roman who has worked for Ward for 35 years, repairing churches from high in the sky is just another day at the office…but clearly both he and Martin have great pride in the work they did.  Each of them was eager to tell me about their nearly nine months here:

How ‘bout that height:  I was surprised when both of them hesitated when I asked them if working up-top bothered them.  They said they got used to it.

Which was worse—the heat or the cold:  Roman wasn’t a fan of the cold and windy days.  They seldom called off for work, just worked at lower levels on the worst weather days.

For Martin, the heat was worse…especially as it radiated back at them from the stones.  He said if he was too cold, he could always add a layer…but if he’s too hot, there are limits to how much he could take off.  (Thanks for that Martin.)

How many rides per day?:  It took about 4 minutes to ride from the bottom to the top, so the usual plan was to go up and work until lunch before coming down.   Once they were at the level they were working on that day, the work deck was expanded.  On weather-challenging days, they worked through lunch.

But what if you forgot something?  Usually one of the work decks was designated as an “elevator” so it could be used to deliver items as needed.

No heavy lifting?  Quite the contrary. Our limestone stones are  massive and most of the movement was done by manpower.  Each of the four work decks had a 10,000 pound weight capacity, so they were always concerned about load and balance.  The biggest stone they moved was 6 feet wide, 26 inches tall and 4 inches deep.

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez
Director of Development and Project Liaison

 

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