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As Washington Monument Reopens, Repairs On National Cathedral Lag

Like the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral was damaged by the August 2011 earthquake.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/franciscodaum/11617389763/
Like the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral was damaged by the August 2011 earthquake.

That the Washington Monument reopened to the public today after three years of repairs was a cause of celebration for many residents and visitors, but for Jim Shepherd, the moment is bittersweet.

"I'd like to think we're the sisterhood of damaged earthquake landmarks, but the Washington Monument seems to be ahead of us in terms of what they're able to do," says Shepherd, the director of preservation and facilities at the Washington National Cathedral.

Shepherd should know. He's the man in charge of restoring the cathedral, which like the monument was damaged by the August 2011 earthquake. But unlike with the Washington Monument, fundraising for repairs has lagged — $10 million of the $26 million needed has been raised — leaving the cathedral in the midst of restoration projects that could take close to a decade to complete.

"Unlike the Washington Monument that has least half supported by the federal government and the other half by a single private donation, ours all comes from the generosity of private individuals and private foundations," says Shepherd, referencing the $7.5 million given by philanthropist David Rubenstein for repairs to the monument. The work on the monument cost $15 million.

For the cathedral, the $10 million already raised has been put to shoring up the 100-year-old building in the wake of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake, repairing and cleaning the interior ceiling and restoring of flying buttresses on the eastern end of the building. That phase of work started five weeks ago and is expected to be completed within 10 to 12 months.

The second and more expensive phase — which includes repairs to the cathedral's central tower — is dependent on when and how the remaining $16 million is raised.

"All of the other repairs, including removing that scaffolding from the central tower that's so visible, we're planning to implement in Phase 2, and Phase 2 we can't implement until we have the money in our pocket," he says. "If we don't get all the funding that we need... then we'll have to do the repairs as the money comes in and that could stretch the project out to seven or eight years in the worst case scenario."

Despite the fundraising challenges, Shepherd tries to stay upbeat.

"It is a little more challenging to keep people interested in supporting the building, but we are optimistic that as we forge forward we will eventually reach our fundraising milestone," he says.

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