A chapel in limbo
During World War II, the Washington bureaucracy expanded so quickly that temporary, trailer-like buildings were built all around the National Mall to accommodate government workers and their paperwork, which just wouldn't fit anywhere else in the city's offices. The buildings were ugly, but at the time they were intended to be temporary, and their designer, President Roosevelt, expected them to disappear at the war's conclusion. Instead, some lasted until the Johnson administration, encumbering views and uses of the nation's capital for decades.
The scaffolding currently going up around the Chapel towers this week is also expected to be temporary, and we hope it will be as fleeting as possible. Vice President for Planning and Development Bill Torrey said this week that the "staging"- a net of nylon mesh- will remain "until a plan is developed and funding secured for the repair of the towers." Only one tower currently has external steel bands supporting it, but now the second tower will be swaddled with staging, too; the problem must be getting worse. In addition, construction fencing and a covered walkway will obscure the cobblestone sidewalk in front of the main chapel doors.
The aim of all this is preventative. Administrators (and, frankly, the editors) are concerned about chunks of stone dislodging and falling on the well-traveled walkways around the front of the building. But no plans, or dollars, are now available for anything more ambitious than prevention. This temporary construction is going up without anyone knowing for sure when it might come down.
"None of us," Torrey said, "relishes the idea of obscuring one of the Bowdoin quad's most striking views." No one relishes the task of finding the money to complete the job, either. Preservation of historic buildings can lead to their restoration, and should in this case. We understand that Bowdoin's budget is leaner this year than in the past; perhaps local preservation groups like the Pejepscot Historical Society can give us some pointers on how to convince the Bowdoin family that money to fix the towers for good is money well spent. But it will be unfortunate if no one steps forward, and this "temporary" solution ends up lasting as long, or longer, as those trailers on the Mall did.