Gesu’s “extreme makeover” could take four years

The red scaffolding, construction workers and pedestrian congestion that have become familiar outside Gesu Church this semester are not going away any time soon. The church is getting a major facelift that will take approximately two to four years to complete, fixing concerns about the building’s exterior structure and restoring internal components of the Gothic landmark.

The most important issue at hand is repairing the church’s steeples and the top of its exterior walls, according to Gesu executive director of operations John O’Brien. O’Brien said an inspection over the summer revealed that the exterior wall on the building’s east side is a “potential failure risk,” with chunks of brick and stone in danger of falling from the roof’s barrier and injuring pedestrians. The sidewalk below, between Gesu and Johnston Hall, was closed during the fall semester and will remain so until the repairs have been completed.

O’Brien said he has been working hand-in-hand with Holton Brothers, a Grafton building restoration company, on the exterior repairs. Conrad Schmitt Studios, a New Berlin decorative painting and restoration company, will be repairing the stained glass windows.

In addition to the exterior work, interior improvements include the Rose window restoration, organ repairs and a new sound system, all part of the loft repair program that began two years ago and will wrap up by Easter.

Keith Anderson, vice president of Metro Sound and Video, is in charge of project and sales management and is working on the sound system.

“The new sound system is extremely sophisticated,” Anderson said. “We began in late winter of 2011, and it is very exciting. You will really be surprised as to how much better it really sounds and how you can really hear the voices.”

O’Brien said it was an honor to be part of the team working on such a major project.

“The Church of Gesu is approximately 120 years old and is in good-to-better condition,” O’Brien said. “But we are trying to balance our priorities and realized this had to be done, or the problems will just get worse and be harder to fix.”

Up to this point, the church has repaired the east side aisle roof that was leaking and 35 of the 39 clearstory windows. The remaining four cannot be replaced without scaffolding. Many of the stained glass windows contained Lexan, a polycarbonate resin which caused discoloration and does not protect the glass as well as the new laminated safety glass.

“We were getting movement in the St. Joseph window,” O’Brien said. “In fact, part of it broke and came out, and you could hear Mary move in her window but couldn’t figure out why. You could literally see Jesus and Joe moving.”

The scaffolding is currently being constructed and encompasses the west side of the church and the west steeple, which has severe exterior damage involving the terra cotta and brick wall. This damage requires grinding and re-mortaring the exterior.

Tom Holton, president of Holton Brothers, said the company has not started any of the repair work but has hired an outside contractor to erect the scaffolding on the west side of the church.

“A good portion of the spring and summer will be used for the purpose of repairing the terra cotta,” Holton said. “We will be repairing the terra cotta as we go because we are not sure what we’re going to run into at the upper part of the tower. Once we’re up there and have close and intimate (contact) with the terra cotta, it will be easier to assess.”

Holton was married at Gesu 18 years ago and said the construction is long overdue. He said he is happy to be part of the project.

“To be part of the restoration process of a church that is rich in tradition is very exciting,” Holton said.