The Naval Academy Chapel is leaking. In fact, it’s been leaking since it was built in 1904.
Renovations began last week to fix it, as well as patch and resolder parts of the iconic chapel dome.
“This was not properly flashed when it was built,” said Sara Phillips, deputy for facilities and construction, noting the strip of metal meant to keep water out of the interior of the building failed to do that very thing.
Though the workers harnessed to the towering dome are sure to draw attention, it’s the copper flashing work along the nave that’s the true star of this $8.9 million renovation.
“Getting to that detail and making sure we have the right flashing through that wall, it allows the water to travel outside the wall rather than through the wall and through the interior of the building which is what’s currently happening,” Phillips said.
The Naval Academy worked with architectural firms Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz and Bell Architects to design the work. The firms found the chapel was likely leaking “from the day it was built,” Phillips said. “There’s evidence of water in the building over many, many years.”
Crews will lift the banister segment of the parapet wall around the nave to insert new copper flashing, then reconstruct the wall with a tiny, exposed drip ledge.
The work marks at least the seventh refurbishment of the structure.
In 1929, the dome underwent renovation after chunks of terra-cotta fell from the rotunda. In 1939, architect Paul Cret designed a new nave — extending the building an additional 151 feet to accommodate an expanded brigade.
In 1997, the chapel saw its first major revamp since Cret’s designs were completed in 1940. And in 2009, work started to replace wooden floors and pews, repair plaster trim and return the interior to its original color scheme.
This time, it’s the iconic dome and surrounding masonry subject to work, which has already begun and will continue through much of 2019.
The new copper flashing will marginally change the appearance of the parapet wall, as it will be visible to the naked eye, but the drip ledge will keep water away from the chapel interior.
The change was approved by the Maryland Historic Trust, Phillips said, which administers the National Historic Preservation Act and governs any alterations to the historic buildings at the academy.
If there’s a worker harnessed to the dome dotting the famous silhouette, don’t worry. Crews will replace existing patches, add new patches and resolder failing joints.
The work won’t affect the darker swaths striping the dome. Those are from repairs in the 1980s that are meant to naturally build the green patina. The rest of the dome had a 50-year head start.
G-W Management Services, the contractor hired for the restorations, will also replace the dome skylights with blast-resistant glass and install a French drain around the building to keep water away from the structure.
The new skylights will be antiterrorism/force protection compliant, meaning they adhere to a federal security standard meant to protect people, buildings and assets from attack.
Scaffolding will move around the building as different aspects of the project progress. It will start on the north side and move later to the south in June.
Wedding guests and churchgoers can breathe easy; the chapel itself will be open during construction, set to wrap in late 2019.