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Teachers College, Columbia University
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This Old Chapel: Update on Milbank Chapel Restoration

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This Old Chapel: Update on Milbank Chapel Restoration

Ongoing renovations in the Milbank Memorial Chapel.

Behind those temporary yellow walls at the entrance of Milbank Memorial Chapel, history is being restored as well as created.

All the seats have been removed. Much of the flooring is missing, revealing snaking wires and pipes. The stage area is larger. The organ is on hiatus. Yellow construction lights hang from the ceiling, but somehow, it's still beautiful inside. And this is just the beginning.

Evergreen Restoration is working with Vincent Del Bagno, Director of Capital Projects, and TC to bring the Chapel back to its original glory while adding some modern technology and climate control systems.

"One of the best parts of this is that we really worked with the community before we made decisions," said Del Bagno. "The plans and ideas came from what students, faculty and administration needed."

Details that weren't as noticeable before the renovations began stand out, including the fresco behind the stage area and the stenciling on the walls, he said. The fresco is twice as bright as it was before and the walls are going to be restored to their original colors.

Workers are in the middle of restoring the gilded details on the ceiling. Wherever it was too damaged, they are using a white underlayment as a base before repairing the gild work, said Del Bagno. Some water damage in one corner is going to be especially difficult to restore.

After the ceiling is done, they will begin work on the walls. The details on the painted green walls include a repeating pattern of "TC" and "M" in gothic lettering. Del Bagno guessed that they were done with woodcuts.

Along the top of the walls above the stained glass windows, sentences run along the room on a narrow parchment scroll in gothic lettering. The stained glass window panels, which will be cleaned, represent fields of study such as poetry, painting, philosophy and oratory.

Retrofitting the new technology into the Chapel's compact space was the biggest challenge for the architects and Del Bagno. Keeping the organ in the room took up extra space while removing the stage increased it. Some of the reasons the stage was removed were that it was too small and that it wasn't easily accessible to people with disabilities.

In the back of the room, the wiring for the sound and audio-visual control center is visible. Drop screens and stage lighting will be added, said Del Bagno. There will be pin spot lighting for a signer for the deaf and the capability to project the signer's image onto the corner of the drop screen during lectures.

In order to provide the spotlights and better lighting in general, stage lighting will be added on the columns and new fixtures will be in the ceiling. "The old lights from the 1950s didn't highlight the ornate details on the walls and ceiling or any of the other features," said Del Bagno. "The new, chandelier type lighting will provide up, down and side lighting. The golden ceiling will be more visible than it ever was before."

Some of the new technology in the Chapel won't be visible at all. In order to install new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units-independent from the rest of the rooms-renovation work had to be done underneath the Chapel. For efficiency, they revised the ventilation system below so that each air conditioner supplies its own area.

"Some of the work that went into the renovation of the Chapel you won't see, but you will feel it, in terms of climate control," said Del Bagno.

The Chapel will be finished by the end of August. The next project will be the microcomputer lab.

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