Upon walking into the Chapel, it is clear that a transformation is taking place. The once bright and spacious place of worship is now shielded by translucent tarps that hang from the balconies on either side of the nave and across the spaces that formerly held the windows that are being replaced. Pews, the altar steps, the floors and the organ are protected by pieces of cardboard and are wrapped in plastic coverings. A dim light is cast as the sun beats on the semi-transparent “windows,” drawing attention to the haze of dust lingering in the air. An initial screech followed by a low rumble indicates that the second phase of the restoration project is in full swing as the construction crews saw through thick layers of concrete.
Continuing with the theme of multi-step processes, the installation of the new heating system involves many stages. The most time consuming aspect of this task is replacing the pipes for the system. Concealed by the flooring along either side of the nave under the galleries are the copper pipes, and given that they are nearing their life expectancy, it is an efficient use of time to make their replacement while the Chapel is closed for the window project. The replacement of these pipes is one to configure the piping and coils so that if future improvements are desired they can be accommodated.
Since salvaged copper is very lucrative, the bidding process for the new piping anticipated the removal and sale of the original copper, which served as an offset to the cost. Thus the University accepted the lowest qualified bid, which included the salvage savings from the sale of the original copper.
In order to replace these pipes, the flooring under the prism-like windows along the nave has to be removed. Construction crews have to cut through the solid layer of concrete under the floor to reach the piping that is a three-pipe system, which runs the length of the sides of the Chapel. The next step is to remove the pipes from the construction of the Chapel in the late 1950’s and then install the new ones. After the copper has been soldered, the pipes must be tested with two times the pressure that they will experience on a normal basis and must hold that pressure for 24 hours. This is the most important part of the installation process, as it is essential that they have met the optimum requirements. These pipes are then insulated to maintain energy efficiency.
Another part of the restoration to the heating system is to replace its coils and the covers that conceal them. Located in the brick
walls that jut out on either side of the nave and give the Chapel its angled texture, the covers will be removed in order to access the old coils. Once the covers are removed, they will be sent to be restored and will be matched to the original color of the covers. These restored covers will offer the improved feature of sound dampening, keeping the sound of the blowers of the heating system to a minimum. Prior to the project start, the university took several decibel readings in the chapel to establish a baseline for sound levels. The new heating coil fans are to achieve a maximum decibel reading, which is lower than the readings the university took prior to the start of demolition. Adding sound dampening to the restored covers is expected to decrease the decibel level further. Once the work is complete the university will take post construction decibel readings to verify this expectation.
While dust may cover much of the Chapel, there is an undeniable feeling of renewal as the restoration project continues. With all of the work underway, a refreshing level of attention is drawn to the structure as a reminder of the events that take place in this sacred space and of the Lutheran heritage that serves as the basis of Valpo’s foundation.