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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Lightning damages Chapel

By Laura Botz
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 16, 2005

The first day of Week One greeted first years with a blackened sky and ear-splitting thunder, leaving them wondering if such foul conditions were some kind of bad omen.

Oddly enough, the storm that drove new students’ first-day activities indoors struck again in the early morning hours of Sunday, Sept. 4, giving the campus a jolt with noticeable consequences.

As preparations were made for worship early that morning, Boe Memorial Chapel was hit by lightning, short-circuiting the organ and Public Address (PA) system's electrical components and damaging the cross atop the south entrance of the Chapel.

Pete Sandberg, assistant vice president for facilities, arrived at the scene on Sunday morning with John Ferguson, professor of organ and church music, to inspect the organ, only to find that its electronic components were no longer functioning. The public address system also appeared to have suffered substantial damage.

"I found pieces of the cross laying there on the steps," Sandberg said, describing the Sunday morning scene. Later in the day, he noticed cracks running down to the base of the cross, indicating that it had taken the storm’s hardest blow.

The cross above Boe’s south entrance is larger than it appears from the ground. It measures 80 inches tall, 56 inches wide, 17 inches thick and weighs over a ton.

In its cracked, unstable state at the top of the chapel, it presented significant safety concerns. Soon after the damage was discovered, the south door of the Chapel was blocked off, along with a generous space around the outside of the building.

Ideally, the cross would have been removed with the help of a large crane. Because of the persistent rain, however, the ground was too soft to support such a sizeable piece of machinery.

Instead, before an audience of curious onlookers, facilities department staff members, with the help of a Boldt Construction ironworker, used a smaller crane with a "man basket" to lift workers to the chapel roof. In this manner, the loose portion of the cross was removed, and the remaining structure was braced to ensure its stability and the safety of the people below.

According to Sandberg, once the ground freezes for the winter, a large crane will remove the damaged cross from the chapel and replace it with a new one. As for the organ, after an evaluation performed by organ technicians later in the week, it was decided that singing at Sunday worship will be accompanied by a borrowed electric organ until a new one can be installed. Also, a consulting group is expected to visit the chapel soon in order to get repairs to the PA system underway.

When asked whether the lightning damage has any impact on the renovations planned for Boe later this year, Sandberg responded optimistically. "We’ll just be able to start disassembling the present organ sooner," he said.

The cement chunk that fell from Boe's cross has found a resting place, serving as Pete Sandberg’s hard hat stand in his office. Sandberg now extends an invitation to everyone at St. Olaf to come up with a function for the remainder of the cross once it is removed this winter. Until then, Boe will bear its scar as a badge of honor for withstanding the unpredictable forces of nature.

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