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Restoration of Duke Chapel To Begin In 2015

Duke Chapel will be closed to the public for about a year

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In 2012, crews inspected Duke Chapel's ceiling. Work will begin in May 2015 to replace mortar inside the building. The Chapel will close during a yearlong restoration. Photo courtesy of Ray Walker.

Duke Chapel will close to the public on May 11, 2015, as part of a restoration project that includes rehabilitating the ceiling and replacing the Chapel's original roof, which is covered with sheets of lead-coated copper.

The roughly yearlong work will also allow crews the chance to restore several stained-glass windows and woodwork, including the pews, and clean the Chapel's floor and walls.

The Chapel will reopen in the spring of 2016.

The Chapel has had few major repairs since it was completed in 1932, but materials used 80 years ago in the original construction are now in need of replacement to preserve and maintain its beauty and use for future generations. The work is part of Duke's overall effort to restore the historic founding-era campus buildings, including Perkins Library, West Union and Baldwin Auditorium.

"There is never a good time to close Duke's most iconic building, but we're acting now to maintain and preserve the Chapel as one of the last great examples of neo-Gothic architecture on a collegiate campus," said Tallman Trask III, Duke's executive vice president.

Since Duke Chapel will be closed during the restoration, officials are currently working on plans to move weekly worship services and special events to other locations. Duke-affiliated families will be given priority for booking a wedding at Sarah P. Duke Gardens or the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. The Chapel and Religious Life offices in the basement will remain open throughout the restoration.

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., a team of structural engineers, materials scientists and architects, will handle the Chapel restoration. Their recent projects include restoration of the Washington Monument and the Washington National Cathedral, both of which suffered damage in a 2011 earthquake.

While construction crews will focus first on the ceiling, replacing mortar in the limestone ribs, the building has been determined to be safe for visitors and continued use. The restoration follows a review in 2012 in which engineers performed hands-on inspection of the ceiling’s surface.

Rev. Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, said that even though work would shift gatherings to spaces across campus, it will also allow for greater integration into the community at-large.

"Duke Chapel is more than just a building," he said. "During this year of restoration, we hope to become known as 'a church without walls' as the Chapel continues to offer outreach to the people of Duke, Durham and beyond."

Sunday worship services are tentatively set for Baldwin Auditorium during the summer and Page Auditorium in the fall. Christmas and Easter services may be moved to larger locations.

Despite restoration work adjusting access to Duke Chapel, Duke community members and campus visitors can count on one thing staying the same. The daily ringing of the Chapel's carillon bells will continue every weekday at 5 p.m.