SHAWNEE — When he saw the damage to Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory's University after a 2011 earthquake, the Rev. Damian Whalen felt the same sense of loss as if something that belonged to his family had been lost.
Whalen, a monk at St. Gregory's Abbey, wasn't alone. On the morning after the quake, a throng of people from the university and the community gathered on campus, grieving over the turret that fell from the building, he said.
“It was like people couldn't go away,” he said.
Just over a year and a half later, the building is on its way to being whole again. Friday, crews replaced the first of four turrets that once graced the historic building. The building was damaged in a 5.6-magnitude earthquake that shook Oklahoma in November 2011.
One of the four turrets fell from the building during the quake. Two others were removed, brick by brick, to preserve as many of the architectural details as possible. A third was damaged so badly that workers had to knock it down.
Arguably the most prominent building on campus, Benedictine Hall has always served as a kind of focal point, Whalen said. The top of the building can be seen for miles around, and its four turrets grace the university's logo.
Completed in 1915, Benedictine Hall was the only building on campus for the first several decades the university existed.
“It's become kind of the symbol of what St. Gregory's is about,” Whalen said.
Building was closed
Broken windows, roof damage and the danger of falling bricks prompted university officials to close the building, which housed most of the university's faculty and administrative offices, as well as classrooms and science labs. Classes resumed in the building in January 2012.
Friday, workers raised a 56-foot, 16,000-pound steel column and lowered it into place on the front of the building. Workers will lay bricks around the column over the next two weeks to complete the turret, university spokesman Mike Mahaffey said.
Workers will install a second steel column next Friday, with the remaining two columns being installed on the back of the building in the coming months. The work is expected to be complete before the fall semester begins in August, Mahaffey said.
Ken Sleeper, project superintendent for Timberlake Construction, said the turrets that crews are installing this summer should be stronger than the original turrets, which were made entirely of brick.
The steel structure helps stabilize the four turrets, meaning they'll be less likely to fall in an earthquake or tornado, he said.
“I'm sure it's going to be good for another 105 years,” he said.
Looking ‘whole again'
Besides repairing the damaged caused by the earthquake, university officials also plan to renovate the building, undoing decades of changes the building has seen, including a major renovation project it underwent in the 1960s. University officials hope to complete that project before the building's 2015 centennial.
After that project concludes, Whalen said he hopes the building will look cleaner and newer. The building will once again be the historical monument that it has been for nearly a century, he said.
“Things are going to look whole again,” he said.