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Seniors, administrators still divided over dome

Mary Kate Malone | Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Though his office in the Main Building is located just a few floors below the statue of Mary and his name carries with it the title of executive vice president, John Affleck-Graves sat at his desk Tuesday afternoon and said that he can do nothing to remove the scaffolding surrounding the golden dome, despite the intense backlash of the senior class.”If there was any way to do the process faster, we would do it. We realize this is a disappointment to the senior class,” Affleck-Graves said.Senior opposition has grown since the process began on March 7.”When I came back from spring break and they had already started, I felt the administration pulled a fast one. They could have polled student voices to gauge the impact before beginning the process,” senior Rob Van Gorder said.Affleck-Graves apologized for the lack of communication and admitted that it was his mistake that the information was not released to students earlier.”I’ll take the blame for it,” he said. “Honestly, I did not anticipate the huge reaction from the class. Other times the Dome has been re-gilded the students have not been so upset.”In the last few weeks, student government has stepped in to try and stop the gilding process. Senior class president Darrell Scott told members of the Council of Representatives at their meeting March 21 that he intended to pursue measures to halt or delay the process until after graduation.Last Wednesday, Scott, along with student body president Adam Istvan and third year law student Adam Russ, met with Affleck-Graves and presented what Scott referred to as a “hypothetical contract” that would allow for the Dome to be temporarily uncovered for graduation.Their plan called for the re-gilding to continue through the month of April. Then, one week before graduation the scaffolding would be taken down, allowing the Dome to be visible for commencement. The following day, the scaffolding could be rebuilt, and the process would continue on as planned.After speaking with contractors, Scott estimated that his proposal would add two weeks to the re-gilding process but would still allow for the project to be completed by the mandatory deadline of Oct. 1, when frost will become a factor.”Mr. Affleck-Graves was sincere and committed to making an arrangement. I was optimistic going to bed Wednesday night that our compromise was feasible,” Scott said.Affleck-Graves said he was impressed with Scott, Istvan and Russ’s enthusiasm.”Darrell had a really good idea, I thought. We wanted to do anything we could to make the best out of the situation,” Affleck-Graves said.But to the disappointment of Scott and the rest of the senior class, the proposal was not approved after Affleck- Graves sent it to Conrad Schmitt Studios and learned that the process of taking down and rebuilding the scaffolding would push the completion date beyond the deadline of Oct. 1.”The contractors told me it was not possible,” Affleck-Graves said.This will be the 11th time the dome has been re-gilded – 17 years since the last touch-up. “If you look at the Dome from the front, it looks fine. But if you look at the back of Mary, you can see it is in need,” Affleck-Graves said.As a result, this year’s process will be especially long. Instead of painting over the old paint, the workers are going to strip the dome of all the previous layers and apply a brand new coat. Also, structural work will be done to maintain the integrity of the inside of the building, Affleck-Graves said. “Now we have to strip 12 layers of paint. We have to prime and re-paint, and that is what takes time. It is going to be stripped down to the bare metal,” Affleck-Graves said.But knowing the logistics of the procedure does little for Joe Tan, whose aunt and uncle will be taking a 24-hour flight from Singapore to see Notre Dame for the first time.”Of all the time to be re-gilding, why before graduation? It’s disappointing that something like this would take place, to my aunt and uncle who are looking forward to seeing campus,” Tan said.Affleck-Graves said he understands how the students and parents are feeling, since he has had two children graduate from the University. But he also knows that the best memories of graduation are not about the dome itself, but the spirit of the graduates underneath it.”Graduation is not about the physical dome. You don’t remember standing in front of it getting your picture taken. It’s about the proud parents and being part of mass. There could be no dome and it would be a fabulous time,” Affleck-Graves said. Many students have insisted that the University’s refusal to change the re-gilding plans shows a lack of respect for its students.”This is just another example that students really do not have a voice at this campus. If our own class president can’t sit down and talk and have something come of it, then certainly a common student won’t be able to,” senior Sarah Bates said.Yet Affleck-Graves insisted that undergraduates are his top priority.”We care more about undergraduates than anybody else. We care about creating a religious and educational foundation for them. Hopefully that is more important to them than buildings,” Affleck-Graves said.Affleck-Graves promised that he will do all he can to make up for the eyesore of a scaffold-covered golden dome. Affleck-Graves and other members of the administration have begun exploring other possibilities to keep graduation special for this year’s class. Affleck-Graves said he would consider any suggestions the students put forth, such as a new location for professional photos or special access to places like the stadium press box or the 14th floor of the library.”If seniors have suggestions, we will entertain everything. We want the students’ initiative and suggestions,” Affleck-Graves said. “But I know the seniors are paying a price, and we can never fully compensate.”

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