Notre Dame spends $58 million to restore Golden Dome's glitter

by JR Ross

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Aug. 23, 1999) – When Dick Conklin was a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame in 1959, a professor asked if anyone knew the instructions the school had given the fire department for putting out a fire at the Main Building.p. “He said those instructions are to come over and throw water on the church,” Conklin said with a chuckle.p. The professor was kidding, but the university’s Main Building -with its famous Golden Dome - was already fading from elegance 40 years ago. By the time it was finally closed for renovations in 1997, the building was falling apart.p. But two years and $58 million later, the building has been restored to its Victorian grandness.p. “Even though it’s kind of Victorian in its elegance, I think it stands for the progress of Notre Dame,” said Conklin, now the school’s vice president of university relations. “Just seeing it now, you realize this is the Main Building. This is the heart of the university, and this is where the university began.”p. Before the renovations, the building seemed at odds with Notre Dame’s carefully cultivated image.p. The walls, once brightly decorated with stencils, was a drab off-white. The building’s ornate wood had turned dark, its windows were covered with dust and dirt and the wooden staircases were sagging.p. “There’s no doubt we were operating in an antiquated building,” said project manager Paula Carlaccini. “I think everybody wanted it to be a building to be proud of, to portray Notre Dame’s image and its history.”p. The building’s third, fourth and fifth floors — all of which were found to be structurally unsound - had to be gutted. They also had to fix structural discrepancies created when the Main Building was rebuilt in just four months after a fire destroyed the structure in 1879.p. At that time, Rev. Edward Sorin, fearful the school he founded would die without the building, put 300 laborers to work rebuilding it.p. But as workers raced each other to complete the building’s wings, they made some mistakes. Skylights weren’t the same size. Rooms on one side of the building had columns while the other wing didn’t. The two sides weren’t level.p. This time around, it took 200 workers two years to complete the renovations.p. “There’s just kind of an elegance to the building that was hidden by the dust of years in the past,” Conklin said.p. Workers restored the public areas as close to their original appearance as possible. Under the drab white walls, painters found the original stenciling that once decorated the hallways and rotunda- including the murals of Christopher Columbus on the building’s main floor.p. From the violet, pink and aqua hues in the stencils to the gold leaf paint that highlights some of the walls, no detail was left untouched.p. Even the new amenities have a classic feel. The entrance to the new elevators is done with ornate wood. New light fixtures were specially made to give them an antique look, as were door handles put up throughout the building.p. But move past the public areas and into the private offices, and the classic feel gives way to the 21st century.p. While keeping some of the classic look in the modern fixtures, the offices also were updated with 62.1 miles of communications cable, 3,700 feet of fiber optic cable 2,109 network outlets. The Building now has central air and thermal windows.p. “From the beginning, there was this idealism and this vision of the great university and we’ve kind of treasured our tradition as we’ve really looked to the future,” said Diane Wilson, an assistant dean in the graduate school. “In a way, you can see that in this building. While everything was lovingly restored, our offices are very efficient. It’s the best working situation I’ve ever had.”p. The project is scheduled to wrap up early next week, when the building will have its public unveiling. A formal rededication is scheduled for Oct. 13-14, when scholars from across the country are scheduled to visit Notre Dame for a conference entitled “Higher Learning and Catholic Traditions,” to discuss the place of Catholic universities in higher education.p. Faculty and staff say the addition of three classrooms is the best part of the renovation. While university President Father Edward A. Malloy taught classes in his conference room up to 1997, regular classes haven’t been held in the building for years.p. “It’s always nice to see what we’re all about, students walking around with books in their hands and professors coming out of classrooms. It just helps remind us of our primary role,” said Joe Russo, director of the financial aid office. “I think if Father Sorin were back to see this now, he’d really be proud.”

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