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Duke Chapel Reopens to Public Friday
The normal echo of the Duke Chapel was amplified recently when the iconic Duke space was emptied of its chairs, pews and visitors. Instead of special events and religious services, the sounds of machinery and clanging metal ricocheted throughout the emptied building.
The Chapel will return to normal at the end of this week, however, as an inspection of the Chapel's ceiling concludes. The Chapel has been closed to the public since Sept. 10 as engineers worked to inspect the ceiling structure after a small sliver, about 1-by-4 inches of limestone support, fell in mid-July. No one was injured, but the ceiling area where the sliver dislodged needed to be stabilized and other portions inspected.
The work has been done by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., a Chicago-based structural engineering firm that is also performing similar inspections and structural stabilizations at the Washington National Cathedral and Washington Monument.
"This group is the best of the best for this kind of job and they've shown to be thorough and meticulous in their work," said Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel. "Making sure our space is in good shape is of significant importance to the Chapel and for the care for all those who step foot in the Chapel."
To do the work, engineers delivered three specially-made lifts from Chicago to Duke. The lifts are unique because they're able to collapse to about 3-feet in width, allowing them to pass through normal-sized doorways. Once fully erect, the cranes can reach up to 90 feet in height - more than enough for the 73-feet tall ceilings at Duke Chapel.
Three teams of engineers have methodically inspected portions of the walls and ceilings in patches of about 5-to-8 square feet at a time before returning to ground level to compile notes. The inspection team has inspected the entirety of the ceiling, including a hands-on inspection of about 95 percent of the surface.
"They've gone section-by-section, looking at almost every tile and piece of limestone," said Ray Walker, staff architect and project manager with Facilities Management who's helped oversee the work. "They might touch and feel the tile to check it, and if there's anything of interest, they'll note the exact location as part of their report."
Walker said that after Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates finishes this week, it'll be three or four weeks before Duke receives a final report to determine if any renovations must be done to the Duke Chapel ceiling. The last time the ceiling was viewed this closely was 1973 during an application of acoustic sealer to the ceiling tiles.
While the inspection process has meant the building is closed to the public, it's offered a unique opportunity for Facilities to clean and reseal the flooring of the Chapel - general upkeep that occurs every eight to 10 years. Walker said this time will be different because all the pews and chairs have been removed for the inspection process, allowing for a more thorough cleaning process.
The Chapel's pews and chairs will be moved back into the building starting Wednesday and open for visitors Friday.
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