Hillsdale College’s Christ Chapel will not be finished in time for commencement in May of 2019, President Larry Arnn recently announced. The chapel is expected to be finished two months later.
“It’s not a very serious delay,” Arnn said. “There’s a lot of masonry work, and the masons who can do this quality of work are limited. Buildings never seem to be early, and with ones like this, if they’re 10 percent late, that’s pretty good. It won’t be done before the seniors go away. That’s the only thing I don’t like about it.”
But Arnn said he still hopes to bring seniors and families into the unfinished chapel, during commencement week.
“I said to Mark, who is the boss on the site, ‘So what if I want to find a way to bring several hundred people in here for something?’ And he said, ‘We’ll find a way,’” Arnn said.
Don Lambert, superintendent of masonry on the chapel project, said the early winter took a toll on the chapel’s progress since the mortar between the brick and limestone is water-based. However, he said the delay rests in the “quality and complexity” demanded by the job.
“The college is spending a lot more money on quality than quantity. Anyone can lay a lot of block real fast and bomb up a wall, but if it’s wrong, it throws off the whole building,” Lambert said. “Everything mounts off the masonry. If you try to rush something, everything can go south real quick.”
Mark Shollenberger, superintendent of construction, said a shortage of laborers also prevented the chapel from finishing on time. He said the company lacks around 60 bricklayers, a trade that he said seems to have a shortage of necessary labor.
With the masonry 99 percent finished on the interior, Lambert said the outdoor stonework is more than 70 percent complete.
“We have left to put the dome, and the arcades,” Lambert said. For bricklaying, he said they are “at 54 feet on the south gable wall facing the clock tower, and we only have 12 feet to go on the towers themselves.”
Shollenberger said the ceiling is the most pressing unfinished project.
“You have to schedule everything around the ceiling. You have to get everything done up high and get down to a level where you don’t have those lifts in the building anymore,” Shollenberger said. “Once we finish getting the plaster and drywall done on the ceiling, we can start priming and painting the stairwells so we can begin the flooring.”
Carl Clark, a mason tender on site, said the tedious construction job demands patience.
“Don doesn’t get all panicked, so we don’t have to get panicked. We shouldn’t get so bound up in a situation that we can’t control,” Clark said. “When things aren’t right on track, I’ve learned to be meek and keep giving all the glory to God.”
Aside from “going back to church” and starting to read books on the Constitution, Clark said this job is the biggest project he’s done in America.
“When there is a greater good to be served, it doesn’t matter how tough the job is. It’s an honorable thing to do. It’s help me stay humble. I feel like Job sometimes. There’s so much power and glory in God, that when I remain calm and quiet, and my ego doesn’t get in the way, I get to see it. It’s just a beautiful job,” Clark said.
Bruce Malpass, a construction worker on site, said this is an incredibly intricate project.
“I’ve been in construction for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything built like this before,” he said. “They tell me these are the largest load-bearing limestone columns in the nation. I’ve never seen a barrel ceiling like this. Maybe in Europe.”
To the senior class who won’t be having their commencement ceremony in the chapel, Arnn assures that there will be many other occasions.
“Come back and get married in it,” Arnn said. “Come back and see it. Participate. You’re members of the college for life. It’s always there for you to use.”