DURHAM — Duke Chapel will be closed for 11 days next month so workers can inspect the ceiling after a piece of limestone fell to the floor and shattered last month.
The limestone ceiling dates to the chapel’s completion in 1935, and university workers visually inspect it, from the floor, every Friday to look for leaks and to make sure all the lights work, said staff architect Ray Walker.
But after the six-inch sliver of limestone landed in the center aisle, Duke decided a close-up, hands-on inspection was warranted, using a lift bucket. That means temporarily removing 118 pews from the sanctuary, said Christy Lohr Sapp, the chapel’s associate dean for religious life.
“It’s going to take them about two days to get all the pews out and then about two days to get them all back in,” Sapp said.
If all goes as planned, the chapel will be closed from Monday, Sept. 10, to Friday, Sept. 21. Worship services on the weekend in between will be held on the chapel lawn or in Page Auditorium. An organ recital scheduled for Sept. 16 has been cancelled.
Scaffolding now spans the middle of the sanctuary so workers can repair the section where the piece came loose. The scaffolding is unobtrusive enough that the university can continue to use the chapel, including for the Duke convocation on Aug. 22 and an orientation speech by author Maya Angelou on Aug. 26.
The limestone piece that fell came from a rib that outlines the ceiling vault, which soars 73 feet at its highest point, Walker said. The ribs and limestone ceiling tiles are held in place by mortar and by the arch of the ceiling itself, he said.
It’s not clear why the piece came loose. No one saw it come down, but people in other parts of the sanctuary heard it, Sapp said.
Some speculate that the East Coast earthquake that rattled the Triangle last August may have played a role, but “that’s mere speculation,” she said.