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Scaffolding brought down four weeks early

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, August 25, 2005

Following a spring of intense debate over the timing of the regilding of the Golden Dome, the Notre Dame landmark’s facelift was completed four weeks ahead of schedule this summer thanks to ideal weather conditions, officials said.

The $300,000 regilding process – whose Dome-hiding scaffolding provoked backlash last March from members of the Class of 2005 who feared the landmark would not be visible in their graduation photos – was highly dependent upon the weather, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said.

Though only a fistful of 28.9 karat gold leaf is needed to cover the entire Dome, the fragile process, done completely by hand, can only be accomplished in wind-free, dry conditions. The chance that bad weather could prevent the Dome from being finished before its stated Oct. 1 frost deadline provided the University’s initial reasoning for erecting scaffolding before commencement.

“The interesting thing is that the scaffolding never actually touches the Dome,” Affleck-Graves said. “So it sways about four inches and when the wind blows it sways up to 12 inches. But this happened to be an absolutely perfect summer. The weather was exceptional.”

In the spring, after weeks of negotiation with senior representatives, Affleck-Graves ordered the scaffolding removed to the base of the Dome in time for graduation.

Longer labor hours over the summer helped make up for the work days missed during the temporary take-down, Affleck-Graves said.

Now, nearly five months later, the regilding is finally complete. Additional painting and landscaping around the Main Building will be completed by Sept. 9, head of business operations Jim Lyphout said.

In late May, then-University President-elect Father John Jenkins, then-University President Father Edward Malloy and Affleck-Graves toured the top of the Dome to view the regilding process firsthand.

“When you get up there it was amazing to see the damage,” Affleck-Graves said. “It surprised me. It was cracked and discolored with blue blobs on it. Boy, when you were that close you could see it had to get done.”

The last regilding was done 17 years ago. Affleck-Graves said he hopes the latest touch-ups, including work on the Main Building itself, will last for at least 15 years. In addition to the regilding, the paint was completely stripped from the tower of the Main Building – a job done far less often.

“The tower has to have the paint taken off completely,” Affleck-Graves said. “In the 70s they did a really good job of putting on a clean base. We only have to do that every 50 years and every other time we’re essentially re-painting it.”

Despite the student outcry in the spring against the Dome regilding, Affleck-Graves said commencement beneath a partially uncovered Dome was peaceful.

“The amazing thing was that at commencement not one person spoke to me about [the re-gilding controversy],” Affleck-Graves said. “I think generally the response was that they appreciated us taking it down to the level of the gutter [of the Dome].”.

And last week, students returned to campus to find themselves beneath the watchful stare of a brighter-than-ever Virgin Mary.

“It was a special treat to come back to,” senior Kyle Clements said. “Obviously it was a lot brighter and I could tell a big difference.”