Local chapel gets facelift

Local chapel gets facelift

By Susan Kantor

The thick limestone walls and gothic architecture of the Chapel of St. John the Divine, 1011 S. Wright St., welcome parishioners to the building every day. Further west on Armory Street, the limestone walls stop abruptly before reaching the building’s west end, and the rest of the building is composed of a frame structure covered with asbestos shingles.

After nearly 80 years of having a building that was not completed to the architect’s original blueprints, plans to complete the Chapel of St. John the Divine are underway.

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“They built (the chapel) in 1927 when they weren’t considering the possibility of the stock market crashing, the Depression and World War II,” the Rev. Timothy Hallett said. “The building has had the temporary completion since 1927. Of course back then, they figured in a few years, we’ll just finish it off.”

This $2 million project is designed by the architects at Isaksen Glerum Wachter who also designed the additions and remodeling to the Champaign County Courthouse and the Urbana Free Library.

When construction begins, the west end will be removed and the building will be lengthened to include one third more seating than is currently available. The walls in the new building will be made of poured concrete and limestone veneering said John-Paul Buzard, chairman of the building committee and local pipe-organ builder.

“We have tried very hard to match the existing chapel as closely as possible to the addition at a reasonable cost,” said Scot Wachter, president of the architecture firm.

The completed building will be handicap accessible and have air conditioning. The improvement in size will also improve the quality of the music played, Buzard said.

“When we built the organ fifteen years ago, we were told to build it to accommodate a building of the increased size,” Buzard said. “It will sound softer and more majestic in tune as a result of the increased volume of the building. The organ will finally be able to speak into the building.”

This is not the first attempt to complete the chapel, but lack of funding has been one of the main barriers to completion.

“There was a long period in which people in the congregation felt that the building was just not a priority,” Hallett said. “It met our needs and there were other things that were more important. As the structure began to age and as we began to feel the pinch of the size of the current structure, a new consensus emerged to go ahead and do this.”

The bid for the completion will be received in May. If it is in line with cost projections, groundbreaking will take place in early summer. The project is expected to finish in summer 2007.

“I hope it will continue to serve as long into the future as it has up until this point,” said Joseph Smith, honorary co-chairman of the chapel completion committee and member of the chapel since 1964. “I hope that future generations will appreciate what has gone on before them and accept this legacy as a blessing.”