Its marble and granite facade is pitted, cracked and dirty. The plaster ceiling has cracks. The cathedral's stained glass windows need re-leading. And more.
The first phase is under way. The magnificent facade of the Fifth Avenue neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral is shrouded in scaffolding all the way to its transept entrances. Soon, the 330-foot-tall twin spires also will be covered in scaffolding. Inside, the choir loft and rose window also are obscured by scaffolding and netting rising from the west end of the nave near the cathedral's entrance all the way up to the ceiling.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced the project on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.
During the restoration - the most extensive since the 1940s - the church will remain open with work pausing only during Mass and other major events. One of the three organs will be functional at all times.
"The idea is to bring the building back to what it was in the 1880s," said Jeffrey Murphy of Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects, which is leading the design team overseeing the restoration work. "When it's all done, it will be cleaner and lighter. ... It will be like when the building was when it was built."
Examples of a lighter and brighter edifice can already be glimpsed on the inside and outside of the cathedral. The contrast between the cleaned surfaces and those covered with years of contaminants is striking.
Over the course of the restoration, each of the 3,000 panels on the 73 stained glass windows will be inspected, cleaned, and re-leaded where needed. About 15 percent will be removed for repair. All exterior protective glazing - clear storm window-type glass - will be replaced, allowing the figures on the stained glass to be discerned from the outside as well as inside.
The first phase of the work, which will take 22 months, also will include work on the roof to address "any water infiltration" and cleaning and repair of the bronze doors leading into the cathedral, said project manager Andy Bast.
Msgr. Robert Ritchie, the rector of St. Patrick's, said $50 million has been raised for the first phase of the restoration from donors, cathedral trustees and the archdiocese.
Phase 2, slated to begin in early 2013, will include the rest of the interior up to the altar and remaining stained glass windows and new heating and air conditioning systems.
Phase 3 will commence in the fall of 2013 and include the altar and the Lady Chapel behind the altar.
The fundraising campaign for the completion of the project will include direct-mail solicitation and outreach to some of the 5.5 million people who annually visit the cathedral.
Bast said 250-300 tradespeople will be working on the site, and up to 1,000 people, including consultants, overall.
Named after the patron saint of Ireland, and located in midtown Manhattan, the cathedral celebrated its first Mass in 1879. It is not the largest Catholic church in the United States, but it is one of the best known and most visited.
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