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For the first time since its construction in 1928, the University Chapel’s roof is being replaced. After decades of constant repairs to fix leaks, the University has decided to replace the entire roof. This renovation, which preserves historical authenticity while addressing environmental concerns, is scheduled to be finished by the end of the summer.

“The roof’s been leaking for a lot of years, and we’ve been making many repairs to it,” said Chris Machusak, project manager for the Facilities department. “We put a coating system on there about 15 years ago to try and lengthen the life of the roof [and] get some more time out of it.”

According to Dean of Religious Life Rev. Alison Boden, the roof’s leaks were damaging the organ, a centerpiece of the chapel.

“The most apparent problem to all of us was the leak that was affecting organ pipes, [with] water leaking into organ pipes, and so we had to scramble and get protective covering over those pipes, so that’s what was really apparent to us,” Boden said.

"The roof leaks at the University Chapel have been fairly infrequent in my 13 years as University Organist, and, if memory serves, only on one side of the building, affecting only one division of the organ," wrote Univeristy organist Eric Plutz in an email. "However, there was some difficulty in rooting out the cause of the problem, resulting in three incidents."

Plutz continues, "I don't [know] any firm dates, but I can tell you what I remember. Following rainstorms with heavy winds, we would experience water damage in the Solo Division of the organ, a chamber on the NORTH side of the building. Most organ pipes are closed at the top, so water dripping in doesn't simply go down the inside of the pipe and sit, but it's the contact with the mechanism and leather that causes the damage. Poor or unusual performance from a specific rank (or row) of pipes was always the signal to me that we had received the damage."

"Initially, the roofers thought it was the roof, and after repairing what they thought was wrong, all was O.K. until another driving rain from the north came. Yet more water damage," said Plutz. "Finally, it was discovered it wasn't the roof - it was the window ABOVE the roof. When water hit the window strongly (high winds) at a specific angle (almost from below), water would come cascading into the chamber. Since that repair, there has been no additional water damage."

However, the underlying structural problems of the roof remained. Ultimately, planning for a complete replacement entered the picture.

“About five years ago, I started having conversations with my boss so we could start thinking about this renovation,” explained Machusak. “We’ve gotten to the point where repairs just aren’t keeping up. We’ve known that it was going to come to this scale.”

Boden confirms the necessity of the extensive planning.

“We had more than a year advance notice about the renovations, which is critical because people get married in the chapel, and they need to book that well in advance,” Boden said. She explained that most people opted to keep the Chapel as their wedding location.

Boden also said she thinks that the process has been well-organized and flexible.

“The construction company and the Facilities office of design and construction, which oversees the University’s side of all of this, really has just been so accommodating, so things are going smoothly,” Boden continued.

According to Machusak, the original roof lasted so long, nearly 90 years, “mainly because it was a very thick material. That’s why it was used, for longevity. We don’t use it nowadays just because it’s not environmentally friendly.”

Although the roof was lead, in accordance with typical building practices of the time, this was not a major reason for renovation.

"It lasted a long time, it wore out, and it’s time for a new one," said Machusak, explaining that its lead composition was not a factor in the replacement.

“The main causes of damage to roof are weather and time since it’s a very tall building and almost nothing falls onto it," he said, adding that the lead roofing material would be recycled.

Machusak said that he was happy with efforts to preserve the chapel’s historical authenticity and adhere to its Collegiate Gothic style. He cited replacing the old lead sheets with visually similar galvanized copper.

“The reason we went with that material is that it looks very similar to the original, but it’s more environmentally safe," he explained. Furthermore, Machusak said they plan to use a similar structure as well.

“We’re going to put it back the same configuration as the old roof was," said Machusak. "It’s called a batten seam, and it’s going to keep the original look of the building."

According to Princeton Alumni Weekly, the chapel was last renovated between 2000 and 2002, when its masonry and stained glass were restored. The roof received its aforementioned coating system during that renovation.

Although the renovations are proceeding smoothly, Boden expressed excitement for the project’s completion in the near future. “It’ll be great when this is done. The exterior of the chapel is stunning on its own, and it’ll be great when it’s not encased in scaffolding. In the Office of Religious Life, we’ve had a lot of renovations. The year before this one, Murray-Dodge was closed for a whole year, while that received required renovations. That was all fire and disability code work. I just want to say, my colleagues and I feel like we’ve been under renovation for a long time, because we have! Between Murray-Dodge and the Chapel, it’ll be great when this is done, and we’ll have that behind us, and that will be good.”

Though the scope of the renovation is clear on the outside of the building, the inside appears undisturbed.

Both chapel administrator Elizabeth Powers and chapel choir director Penna Rose declined interview requests.

The chapel is nondenominational and holds various services each week, in addition to events such as Baccalaureate.

Machusak hopes that the new roof will be just as long-lived as the old one.

“We’re hoping to get 80, 90-plus years out of it,” Machusak said.

Facilities declined to comment on the cost on the renovation.

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