One of the most recognizable sights in the state of Colorado is the US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel near Colorado Springs. Designed by architect Walter A. Netsch, it was constructed between 1959 and 1962, and is a modernist reinterpretation of traditional cathedral architecture.
But if you are visiting Colorado Springs right now, you will not see the 17 iconic spires of the Cadet Chapel. Instead, you will be greeted by an unusual sight: a large white box.
The USAF Academy Chapel has been undergoing extensive renovations since September 2019. The box you see, often described as a “cocoon,” ensures that work may continue unabated even in harsh weather. This robust structure has protected the reconstruction team from winds gusting as high as 100 mph.
The USAF Academy Cadet Chapel Will Not Emerge from Its “Cocoon” Until 2027
The Cadet Chapel has suffered from leaks for a long time as a result of changes made to the original design, which specified rain gutters. When the budget for construction was slashed, the gutters were deemed unnecessary.
For decades, the Air Force has patched up problems with the building without resolving their underlying causes. During that time, the structure itself has suffered along with the pews and organs.
Just how extensive are the current renovations? In this article, Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, the Academy’s director of logistics, calls it “a historic project, the only one of its type in the world, let alone the Air Force.”
It is going to take until 2026 for the repairs to be complete. But the public still will not be able to access the chapel until the following year.
Here is What is Taking Place Inside the Cocoon
In the same article linked above, Ray Bowden at USAF Academy Public Affairs details the full extent of the renovation work. Bowden writes that workers are “completely replacing the building’s aluminum siding, stiffening the steel upper structure, installing a new water barrier, removing and cleaning the building’s original 24,000 pieces of stained glass and restoring the pews and the chapel’s two enormous organs to their original state. The AFCEC manages repair of the 52,000 square-foot building, including the 17 steel spires.”
Originally, the project was estimated with a lower cost and a closer completion date. Alas, workers found out there is a lot more asbestos to deal with than they previously believed. The additional cost to remove the unexpected asbestos comes in at $60 million. It is also part of why the chapel will not open again until 2027.
USAF Academy Architect Duane Boyle said, “Every piece of aluminum, replacing the dolls [stained glass pieces], organs, pews–everything is being renovated. While the true extent of the asbestos put a wrinkle in our plan, our intent is the same today as when the project began: to completely restore the chapel.”
Before the most recent project updates, residents and visitors to the area believed the renovation work would be complete as soon as next year. While it is sad that no one will be able to enjoy the chapel for another few years, we are happy that the Academy has not scaled back its work on this historic project.
Cutting corners, after all, was part of what caused the problems with the water damage in the first place. Refusing to cut corners now will help to prevent more extensive repairs from being needed in the future.
This beautiful structure is a national historic landmark, its soaring spires an architectural nod to aircraft and flight. It deserves the full dedication of time, funds and resources the USAF has been able to give it so it can continue to delight cadets and guests for many decades to come.
For more MCM architecture in Colorado, read on about Mile High and Mid Mod: A 1955 Harvey Park Home and This Post and Beam Denver Home is a Renovation Success Story. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!