April 2024

United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Historic Restoration Project

Oftentimes, JE Dunn Construction teams have worked on so many government projects, they can be out of sight and out of mind once completed, quickly moving onto the next. But for Donald Tennyson, Alex Delimont, and the rest of the JE Dunn team, one government restoration project includes a web of personal connections that will live on for generations.

The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is considered one of the most recognized icons in the U.S. and the most visited man-made Colorado landmark. It’s so iconic that Tennyson recalls learning about the building in architectural history courses he took in college, and Delimont performed there with his choir while in grade school.

“This job is pretty cool because so many people have connections that predate our professional involvement with the Chapel,” Tennyson said.

JE Dunn’s Colorado Springs office had been hearing about potential renovations to the USAFA Chapel for more than a decade, and Tennyson said that anyone who lives in and around the area is familiar with the Chapel and the ongoing issues it has faced. The building has leaked for over 50 years, he said.

“We began pursuing the project in late 2017, believing JE Dunn was well suited to address the project’s unique and challenging aspects,” Tennyson said.

To propose on the project, JE Dunn had to meet rigorous government qualifications. In addition, JE Dunn had to partner with various specialty trades for the historic restoration scopes which included the pipe organs, stained glass, metal panels, wood pews, and other historic materials. The team quickly determined the project also needed something different than JE Dunn had done before to execute the renovations: a big bubble around the outside.

The original design called for leaving the main building structure open to the elements throughout renovations, which Tennyson said would have created significant schedule and quality risks due to the weather. The team designed and constructed a unique structure which has proven critical to the project’s success to date, protecting restoration efforts within the enclosure from outside elements.

The first year was spent building the temporary enclosure, removing historic elements, continuing extensive technical design discussions, and rigorously documenting the historic materials for replication and/or replacement. Since then, 100% of the exterior skin and interior plaster have been removed and abated, leaving only the original steel structure. The team is currently finalizing the onsite mockup for review and testing. The team has also begun installing the new skin system on the original structure. Away from the project site, all of the pews, which were significantly water damaged, have been restored. The stained glass restoration is also complete. Two organs, totaling more than 7,000 pipes, have been taken apart and are being restored offsite. Site railing, the main building entry doors, and other key project elements are also being restored or stored in offsite locations.

“The goal is for the completed project to look like the original design intended before the attempt to address the leaking prior to its opening. Some architectural elements will be revealed which the public has never seen before.,” Delimont said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my JE Dunn career to be involved with multiple high profile historic renovation projects, but this is truly a one-of-a-kind, world-famous building. It’s a unique challenge that we are all proud to be involved in.”