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Work on damaged National Cathedral begins next week

Wednesday - 3/12/2014, 9:08am  ET

National Cathedral (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
Katie Francis, a member of the Difficult Access Team from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, inspects a gargoyle while rapelling down one of the north tower on the west front of the National Cathedral while looking for damage from the August 2011 earthquake and high winds from Hurricane Irene in D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Washington National Cathedral leaders are working hard to ensure upcoming earthquake damage repairs don't interrupt activities at the cathedral, including tours, worship services and state events.

"We are moving into a construction zone," says National Cathedral Director of Preservation and Facilities James W. Shepherd.

"We have spent a lot of time coordinating a schedule to make sure we're minimizing impact.

But during the estimated 12 to 14 months of construction, there will be noise and dust as the scaffolding goes into place and massive cranes are used.

National Cathedral needs an estimated $26 million to repair the damage caused by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 23, 2011.

Since then, cathedral staff and consultants have been assessing the damage and creating action plans for what can be accomplished with donations. Donations so far total $10 million.

Work detailed as phase one begins next week will include the restoration of the interior ceiling of the nave, which also has staining from what Shepherd calls "deferred maintenance." The repairs also will address exterior damage on the east end and on the six flying buttresses.

The next phase of work that has yet to be funded will address all other exterior repairs caused by falling debris, including the restoration and permanent stabilization of the central and west towers.

Support scaffolding will remain on many exterior areas of the cathedral until the phase two repairs are funded.

For example, scaffolding around damage to the southwest pinnacle includes "a series of large jacks inside the pinnacle helping to relieve some of the pressure," says National Cathedral Head Stone Mason Joe Alonso.

There also are massive cables wrapped around the southwest pinnacle.

"So between the scaffolding, the cables and the jacks that pinnacle is now stable until we can deal with it as part of a phase two," says Alonso.

Alonso calls "amazing" the way the earthquake moved the pinnacle on its base.

"It's as if a giant hand just rotated that pinnacle several degrees."

Debris falling from the southwest pinnacle caused the only damage sustained by just one of the cathedral's 106 iconic gargoyles. The bat-like creature was hit in the head breaking off a piece of the masonry covering its drainage pipe.

Cathedral leaders signed a contract for the work about a week ago with Davis Construction. The company also built the Cathedral's underground parking garage and visitors' center.

Earthquake repair is scheduled to begin inside the cathedral Monday, March 17.

Exterior work set to begin March 31 will involve massive cranes moving pinnacles off the cathedral's six flying buttraces so they can be taken apart, repaired, reassembled and replaced.

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