If you haven’t visited the Air Force Academy’s chapel lately, you may want to stop by before it closes for four years of renovation.
Academy boss Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told the Military Affairs Committee of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce that work will be begin late this year that could see the chapel closed until 2022.
“It’s going to take us four years, and it is going to be a slow process,” Silveria said.
Plans to rebuild the chapel, which has been lauded as one of the globe’s 10 most beautiful churches, were unveiled last year. The structure, which opened in 1963, has suffered water leaks since it held its first service, thanks to a cost-saving shortcut that left its aluminum siding unsealed.
The renovation will include removing the aluminum skin from the structure and replacing much of the metal after flexible plastic seals are added to make the 55-year-old building water-tight for the first time.
Those seals were cut from construction plans in the 1960s in favor of caulking in a bid to save money. But the caulking never worked, despite an extensive maintenance program that saw workers attempt to renew the failed seals every year.
The new seals, though, might be one of the easiest portions of the renovation. Before work begins on the exterior, workers will remove the south wall of the structure so its custom-made pews and other fixtures can be removed.
In that process, workers will remove the 4,423-pipe organ from the facility. It will also be repaired.
Silveria said leaders have identified other structures on the campus that can house worship services during the renovation. They are also identifying facilities to host the scores of weddings that the chapel hosts each spring as new graduates end their academy careers by tying the knot.
A key concern for the academy and surrounding community during the work is the lost of a tourist attraction. The chapel draws an estimated 600,000 visitors a year to view its sweeping spires and intricate stained glass.
Silveria, though, is looking on the bright side.
“I think its going to be a tourist attraction to watch the construction,” he said.
The work on the chapel is part of a construction boom at the school. Leaders are planning to remodel one of the school’s two dormitories. The refit of Sijan Hall, which houses more than 1,800, will mean relocating cadets temporarily as the work is completed in phases.
The academy also plans to start work soon on a $30 million structure to house Air Force CyberWorx. That program seeks to solve Air Force problems through a collaboration between cadets and private industry.
Leaders also hope to break ground next year on the academy’s new visitor center. On 57 acres near the school’s northern gate, the center is a privately financed venture that’s backed by tax-increment financing through Colorado Springs’ City for Champions initiative.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx