Notre Dame Target Remains Despite Delays
One year after a fire ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral, officials are saying that, while it’s still possible to get the repairs done by 2024, it has been a struggle to keep construction on track, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the evening of April 15, 2019, flames engulfed the more than 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying the spire and nearly two-thirds of the roof.
With the help of about 500 firefighters battling the blaze, the fire was brought under control by the early hours of Tuesday morning, five hours after the outbreak. Officials stated that no fatalities took place during the incident, and only one firefighter was reported to have experienced serious injuries.
There were no initial reports about what had caused the blaze, though police said at the time that it appeared to be accidental and that the cause could be linked to the ongoing 6-million-euro ($6.8 million) renovations. Since then, though, investigators have said they believe an electrical short-circuit is the culprit.
City and national officials have since been criticized for failing to fully disclose the risk of contamination as a result of 440 tons of lead roofing that had burned in the fire, which consequently sent clouds of lead particles into the air. Work was suspended for weeks over the summer, while the surrounding area underwent lead testing.
On Aug. 13, maintenance and clean-up practices commenced in Notre Dame’s 100,000-square-foot enclosed plaza and on surrounding streets.
The process involves vacuuming, scrubbing and rinsing the pavement and various surfaces using a highly pressurized water mixer combined with a special particle compound used to remove lead. The wastewater is then recovered.
On more dense surfaces like granite, workers use a special gel to coat the contaminated surface, which is left to dry for several days and is then removed, pulling out any lead particles that have become embedded in the stone.
Although environmental associations, labor unions and other groups agree that cleanup procedures should have begun months ago, new decontamination measures have been established for workers at the cathedral. Through the use of foot baths, showers and wearing of disposable uniforms, workers are both more protected and less likely to spread toxic particles outside of the plaza. Strict check-ins and check-outs have also been employed.
President Emmanuel Macron has specified that he wants the monument to be rebuilt in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, slated to be held in Paris. To aid this goal, digital 3D scans taken by the late Andrew Tallon of New York’s Vassar College in 2015 are believed to provide the necessary information for fast-track construction.
However, before restoration efforts can begin, the melted scaffolding needs to be taken down—piece by piece.
If the scaffolding were to fall or collapse, is could reportedly put other parts of the building in jeopardy, so workers will have to first build a structure above the scaffolding that will allow them to rappel down.
Officials began taking down the 50,000 metal tubes that make up the lattice in October. While they’re dismantling the lattice, they are also install planks above and below the cathedral’s ceiling for closer examination.
French general Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is heading up the 40-person committee that is overseeing the restoration, told The Guardian that the unexpected pauses in work should not impact the five-year deadline.
“If everyone rolls up their sleeves and the work is well planned, it is conceivable that returning the cathedral to a place of worship within five years will not be an impossible feat,” he said.
“Obviously, the area around the cathedral will be far from finished, and perhaps the spire will not be completed, but the cathedral will once again be a place of worship and this is our aim.”
Delays include specialist artisan buildings being sent home as France went on lockdown, as well work stopped before it began on the removal of the damaged scaffolding.
While the historic landmark is still considered to be “in peril,” Georgelin noted that monitoring equipment attached to different parts of the structure indicate that there has been no movement in the last year.