The Pitt News

With fanfare, Heinz Memorial Chapel reopens

By Dale Shoemaker / News Editor

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It was Anna Thomas’s job to keep the doors of the Heinz Memorial Chapel closed Thursday night.

“They said, ‘Open doors for people, and try not to let the cool air out,’” Thomas, a junior engineering major, said.

Thomas is a member of the Blue and Gold Society, a Pitt Alumni Association-sponsored student organization, and ushered in guests at Pitt’s celebration of Heinz Chapel’s grand reopening Thursday evening, after it had installed a new heating and cooling system. Officials at Heinz Chapel, she said, asked her to keep the doors closed to keep the building as cool as possible.

In May, Pitt completed renovations on the 77-year-old Chapel, but unlike before, the Chapel will now be cool in the summer, meaning it doesn’t have to keep its doors wide open to catch a breeze. The radiators, too, will no longer rattle during services in the winter, according to Patricia Gibbons, director of the Chapel. The Chapel officially reopened on June 1, and to celebrate, the Chapel hosted a “Grand Reopening Celebration” on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. About 200 community members, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and several members of the Board of Trustees attended the celebration. Pitt’s Facilities Management department will manage the new climate control system, University spokesperson John Fedele said. In total, Pitt budgeted $1,735,000 for the project, but Facilities Management has not yet determined the final cost of the project.

According to Facilities Management, Pitt and the Heinz family designed the Chapel with no cooling or humidity control, which, years after its construction, led to complaints, particularly in the summer. The new system, Facilities Management said in a release, is designed to keep a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. On days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, however, it is projected that the system will only be able to cool the Chapel to approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pitt began the renovations, which it called in a video about the project “a decade-long funding and logistics puzzle,” in September 2014 and completed the project in mid-May.

During the ceremony, both Gallagher and Gibbons addressed the crowd.

“The new climate control system will keep the remarkable craftsmanship in place for many years to come,” Gallagher said.

Video screens at the front of the sanctuary showed pictures of the new heating and cooling equipment installed in the basement and of the first wedding ceremony performed since the Chapel officially reopened.

“Sitting here, you think, OK, what did they do?’ but go downstairs and you can see it all,” Gibbons said.

During the ceremony, OvreArts Sinfonia and Chamber Singers, the resident ensemble of the Chapel, played a selection of original and classical compositions. Jeanne Kohn, the music director at the Church of the Ascension on Ellsworth Avenue, accompanied the ensemble on the Chapel’s organ.

As a part of the renovations, workers from the Allegheny Pipe Organ Co. in Butler County had to disassemble the entire 4,272 pipe organ and remove it from Chapel. When the new heating and cooling system was in place, the workers cleaned each piece, put the organ back together and tuned it.

Thursday was the second time in four years Kohn got to play the Chapel’s organ, she said. Both times, she felt the acoustics of the Chapel were special, so that individuals sitting in the pews can hear the individual lines of a song, even a complex one like “‘Little’ Fugue in G minor,” by Johann Sebastian Bach, she said.

“Churches can create problems [for organs],” Kohn said. “This space seems to be very kind. You can hear individual lines out in the room.”

Organ included, Gibbons said seeing Pitt complete the renovations during her tenure is “unbelievable.”

“It’s a goal I’m happy to see achieved while I’m in charge of the place,” she said.

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With fanfare, Heinz Memorial Chapel reopens