(COLORADO SPRINGS) — On Thursday morning, March 30, the last piece of aluminum was removed from the exterior of the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel, which transitions into the next phase of the restoration process.

“We are here today to celebrate a key milestone that when they take the 1008th panel,” USAFA Director of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez, said. “The last aluminum panel on the structure that signifies the transition from what we considered preparation, demolition and abatement of hazardous materials.”

The construction crew up in the crane to remove the last piece of aluminum.

The Cadet Chapel was built from 1959 to 1962 and over the years has faced water intrusion issues and damage in the building.

“The building started to leak immediately in 1962 when it was completed,” USAFA Architect, Duane Boyle, said. “So all these Band-Aid fixes were put on it. So sheet metal flaps were riveted to the outside of the building. There was actually many spires that were between the main spires, those were all covered up with sheet metal.”

The construction crew removed the 1008th piece of aluminum on Thursday morning.

Restoration of the chapel began in 2019 to help solve the leakage problem and mend water damage.

“So unless you were actually in the chapel in 1962, before any of the band-aids were put on the building, nobody’s ever truly seen the brilliance of the stained glass as it was intended,” Boyle said. “When the project is done, you are going to see that we have a long way to go still… to get the building back open. But we’re committed to getting this right.”

The design and inspiration behind the chapel came from Walter A. Netsch Jr. – more information on the architecture be found online.

“So when Walter had all the design of the entire campus pretty much underway, he decided to take a trip to Europe to see what cathedrals in Europe could inspire him and the design of our chapel here today,” Boyle said. “And it was really for when he came back, he started designing the chapel that we have now.”

The restoration project began back in 2019 with an expected opening of the chapel in 2027.

The restoration project will keep the original designs by Walter still in place for all visitors to enjoy.

“I spent 20 years with Walter, talking to him about why he did things the way he did at the Academy,” Boyle said. “And particularly a lot of information on what he was trying to do with his design intent for the chapel… For me personally, it’s a real privilege to be able to, you know, carry on and sort of in Walter’s footsteps and restore the building.”

The construction crew signed their names on the 1008th last piece of aluminum.

More than 720 people have worked directly on the chapel. Work goes beyond Colorado Springs, with other teams helping to make the restoration all possible.

“We have a team in Texas right now that is doing water testing on a mockup to be able to prove out the new assemblies that are going to be going on the building,” Vice President of JE Dunn Construction, Donny Tennyson, said. “We have stained glass that is sitting in California right now being restored. The Catholic and the Protestant pipe organs are just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, on the East Coast being restored.”

While doors to the chapel are closed, USAFA Senior Chaplain, Col Julian Gaither, explained how the Academy supports cadets’ spiritual journey.

“However, one of the things that our chaplain corps has always done is reminding our cadets that though it’s a symbol, that does not mean that we don’t still care for their spiritual freedoms because they’re going to be deployed in locations across the globe that don’t always have a house of worship, a house of faith as this one,” Gaither said. “We constantly remind them that their spiritual fitness, their spiritual readiness is really the most important thing.”

The expected opening of the Cadet Chapel will be in 2027 and Gaither shared his excitement in bringing visitors back into this special space.

“The Cadet Chapel is the most visited manmade structure in the state of Colorado, and we miss welcoming our hundreds of thousands of visitors each year through our doors, making the Cadet Chapel more than just a historic building,” Gaither said. “But America’s chapel housed in the faith of our nation.”