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Naval Academy chapel dome scaffolding to start coming down as project nears finish line

The Chapel Dome at the Naval Academy looks a bit different these days.

Instead of the sunlight highlighting the green dome, it glints off of the metal scaffolding protecting the newly added copper.

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The Chapel Dome — a staple of any tourist picture — will no longer be green. Instead, the Naval Academy is in the process of replacing the old, oxidized copper with new metal, giving it a shiny reddish-brown color. Copper turns green when exposed to oxygen — the Statue of Liberty is the famous example — but the dome will take 20-25 years before turning green once more.

The renovation also includes replacing the dome’s skylights and building a French drain to keep water away from the dome.

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That protective scaffolding should start coming down in October, with some coming off of the cupola as early as next week, as the project finishes. Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck predicts the Chapel Dome will be finished around Thanksgiving.

This past week, the final pieces of custom-molded copper were added to the dome, Buck said during a Monday Board of Visitors meeting.

Like with most things at the academy, the coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on the dome’s restoration. The project was supposed to finish on June 28, but the Texas company creating the copper was hit hard by the pandemic, causing a delay, Buck said during the meeting. Buck did not elaborate.

The project initially came with a price tag of $8.9 million, but complications arose and the academy decided to replace the entire dome with copper, increasing the cost, said Naval Academy spokesperson Jennifer Erickson.

Erickson did not have the total cost of renovating the dome with the added charges.

The dome has suffered from leaks since it was built, according to previous Capital reporting. In 1929, the dome was renovated after pieces of terra-cotta fell from the rotunda, with a new nave, designed by architect Paul Cret, added from 1939-1940.

The dome was renovated again in 1997 and then in 2009 when its wooden floors and pews were replaced, the plaster trim was repaired and the interior was returned to its original color scheme.

At the time the dome renovation was announced, it was in addition to a backlog of 108 projects, with total maintenance costs projected to be $736 million, according to previous reporting.

For those anxious to see the dome completed or sad to see the green go, the Naval Academy Alumni Association is selling former portions of the dome. For $135, people can now own a portion of the Chapel Dome with a rounded glass dome. Or for $130, they can own a portion with a square glass cover. Both of these products are only available until Sept. 30.

For those preferring to keep part of the dome a little closer to home, the alumni association is also selling jewelry with some of the old copper from the dome, including cuff links and necklaces.

The proceeds from the sales go to the alumni association, Erickson said. They are not a fundraiser for the dome.

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