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Cathedral needs $25 million to repair earthquake damage, pay expenses

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Washington National Cathedral needs to raise at least $15 million for initial repairs to the earthquake-damaged edifice, officials said Tuesday, and the chief stone mason there thinks overall repairs could take a decade to complete.

The English Gothic cathedral in Northwest Washington remains closed as workers stabilize large stone pinnacles and other decorative elements shaken from their foundations during the Aug. 23 quake.

Plans are for a reopening Nov. 12, but much work remains to be done.

Late last week, during a tour of the cathedral, officials showed some of the damage that still must be addressed.

Numerous stone finials, pinnacles and ornate gargoyles were toppled or knocked askew by the quake. Several remain balanced precariously, as if another jolt might send them crashing down, too.

One gargoyle, the head of a ferocious-looking cat, hung only by an internal metal pipe attaching it to the building hundreds of feet above the ground.

Several of the 600-pound finials shaken loose from the pinnacles on which they sit resembled chess pieces about to fall off the edge of a table.

Others had been more slightly displaced.

All would have to be removed for safety’s sake.

Cathedral officials said Tuesday that they would be seeking to raise a total of $25 million — $15 million for the short-term repairs and $10 million to help pay for cathedral operations through the end of 2012.

“The short-term priorities are . . . stabilizing the building, reopening the cathedral, and continuing its operations and mission,” the cathedral said in a statement.

Full restoration is expected to cost “tens of millions of dollars,” the statement said, and the cathedral “will seek contributions large and small from across the country.” Cathedral operations are not funded by the government or a national church entity.

The cathedral had said after the earthquake that the repairs could cost “millions.” But the damage was more extensive than first realized.

One finial had fallen off and struck the cathedral roof during the quake. Another had fallen into the shrubs far below. Shattered stone littered gutters and roofs where ornate pieces had come loose and fallen.

Another elaborate section had its decorative pillars snapped.

Further problems could be discovered during the repairs, a spokesman said.

The cathedral has recently undergone severe budget-cutting. Several years ago, its staff was reduced from 170 to 70, and spending was slashed after its endowment plunged in the economic slowdown.

But fundraising has been strong in the past year and is on track this year, officials said.

Meanwhile, Joseph Alonso, the cathedral’s chief stone mason, said last week that the repair project could take 10 years, “if not more.”

“I don’t know how much money the cathedral has to throw at this,” he said. “They’re throwing some serious money at it right now. How do you pace yourself?”

Plus, he said, the repairs must be done right, especially concerning out-of-the-way stone decorations that most people rarely see.

“I’m sure people are going to ask, ‘You don’t need to carve those so nicely. . . . Who’s going to see them?’ No. I don’t think so. We need to put this thing back together. That’s the way it is. . . . For the future.”

The cathedral, at Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues NW, plans to reopen with the consecration of the Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. The reopening will begin a week of events to welcome people back and thank the community for its support.

The 301-foot-tall cathedral, one of Washington’s most iconic and visible buildings, was damaged when the 5.8 earthquake struck the area six weeks ago.

In addition, a construction crane that was brought in to help with repairs toppled over Sept. 7, two days before the cathedral had been scheduled to reopen.

The crane operator was injured, and other buildings in the complex were damaged. The cathedral was not further damaged.

“This has been a difficult time for the Cathedral,” the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, interim dean of the cathedral, said in the statement.

“While we are proud of our ability to continue our historic mission under trying circumstances . . . reopening is only the first step down a long path toward restoring the Cathedral to its previous state,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. James P. Wind, chairman of the cathedral’s governing board, added: “The Cathedral has been entrusted to us as [a] . . . national treasure. . . . We take that trust very seriously and will do everything necessary to restore the building to the condition our national community . . . has come to expect.”

The cathedral, which took 83 years to build and was completed in 1990, is a kind of national place of worship.

Its soaring, vaulted interior has hosted presidential funerals and innumerable national celebrations and memorials. Its gray limestone towers — the highest points in the city are visible for miles around — and its elaborate stone carvings, including one of Darth Vader — make up a forest of art.

“Every piece of stone on this building is a sculpture,” Alonso said. “Everything on the building was sculpted and carved by hand.”

But the earthquake shook the cathedral to its elegant spires, and the extent of its needed repairs has become daunting.

“It’s going well,” Alonso said during a tour of the cathedral last week. “The interior is ready to go.”

Workers have installed fine netting below the ceilings in case more debris should fall. Small bits of mortar were shaken loose from the ceiling during the quake.

“But we have not seen anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “And the mortar is the sacrificial part. . . . If something’s going to give, you want it to be the mortar.”

There are no new cracks in the ceiling as a result of the quake. “Everything has been gone over in here,” Alonso said of the interior, “so it’s ready to go.”

The main structure of the cathedral is sound, he said.

The upper sections of the building’s exterior are different.

On Thursday, he clambered across the gutters and ledges of the lichen-stained stone, pointing out problems.

He said the cathedral shook more violently at the top as the energy of the quake spread up from the ground. “I liken it to the cracking of a whip,” he said.

“It’s mind-blowing,” he said. “A gothic cathedral is the worst structure in the world to be involved in an earthquake.”

Workers were using a giant crane last week to hoist steel girders to the top of the cathedral’s wind-swept central tower, where planes could be seen taking off from Reagan National Airport in the distance.

A platform will be built on top of the girders, where crews can then build scaffolding to reach some of the most inaccessible damage.

Alonso said more than 40 pieces of stone there have to be lifted off so workers can reach and remove the damaged elements.

The crane down below will do the lifting, he said. He said he hoped that work might begin next week.

“We’ve got to get this battened down for the winter,” Alonso said. “We’ve got a couple of good months of weather. Get this scaffold built. Get the stones off the top. . . . That’ll give us some breathing room this winter.”

He said some damaged stones can be repaired. Others will have to be recarved.

It’s a huge task, Alonso said, but “we can do it.”

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