Ascension staff struggles with fire restoration process

? Total damage cost dependent on success of repair alternatives; organ dedication postponed until early May.

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It doesn't appear that Ascension Church will be getting back to its normal routine any time soon in the wake of a small but very smokey storage room fire. The blaze, which was discovered early on Jan. 6, was quickly extinguished  before it could spread, but the flames had apparently smoldered all night, producing copious smoke throughout the entire church interior.

Repair costs have been estimated at between $400,000 and $500,000. However, repairing the actual fire damage, it's now clear, will be but a fraction of that total cost. The roughly 5-foot x 12-foot room in which the fire started suffered heat and smoke damage, and its contents were destroyed. While the fire damage itself was minimal, smoke damage was extensive.

"It also went up the staircase up to the organ loft," said Ascension Business Manager Tom Gull. All 2,500 pipes that comprise the new organ must now be meticulously cleaned, he said. Gull said that five "ranks" of pipes, consisting of several dozen small pipes each, have already been back sent to their factory for cleaning. The larger pipes will be cleaned onsite. All together the cleaning will cost between $30,000 and $40,000. With the uncertainty over how to adequately clean up the church, as well as the upcoming Lent and Easter season, Gull said there will now be no formal organ dedication before May.

By far the biggest expense will be for cleaning soot from the massive wall surface inside Ascension, 815 S. East Ave. Both expensive and quite time consuming.

"We're looking at the least expensive to the most expensive," said Gull. Unfortunately the least expensive has already been tried, and did not work. Ventilation equipment was used last week to help remove the smoke scent from the church prior to Sunday masses. The smell remains, though, as well as a considerable amount of soot on the soaring church walls.

The next step, which will occur Thursday, is to seal off the church interior and fill it with what is called a "thermal fog." That process will take 48 hours, in addition to time required to remove the fallen soot particles. The theory behind the approach is that the chemistry in the fog will cause the soot particles to become heavier, and eventually fall to the floor. Workers will then re-clean the carpet and church pews.

"If that doesn't work, they'll have to scaffold the church and use dry chemical sponges," said Gull, adding that that "would be (a huge effort)."

There is one other option, said Gull. Church management met for the first time last week to discuss long range plans to repaint the church interior in about two years," he said. Should all other restoration approaches prove inadequate, Gull said, the repainting may be done two years early.

"We don't want to have to scaffold the church twice," said Gull.


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