Weakened by Katrina, seminary steeple to be replaced

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--A beacon of hope following Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary steeple, is down, but only for a season.

The aluminum-clad steel steeple, which stretched 170 feet above the seminary campus, remained in place during the storm and suffered only minor external damage. However, the internal steel structure was damaged beyond repair and seminary officials opted to remove the steeple so it can be replaced. For the next four to six months Leavell Chapel will be without its steeple.

Patterned after the steeple of the first Baptist church in America, First Baptist Church of Providence, R.I., the NOBTS steeple was installed atop Leavell Chapel in 1975. Over the years the steeple became of symbol of the seminary’s mission to be a “lighthouse” for the Gospel in the city of New Orleans.

“The chapel was without a steeple from its construction in the 1950s until 1975,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We hope this will be the last time the steeple is absent.”

In 2002, when NOBTS administrators chose a new logo for the school, they chose a design that featuring the steeple.

The replacement steeple, which could be installed as early as November, will be an exact visual replica of the original steeple. The internal design, however, will be much stronger than the original. The new steeple will feature an improved structure which meets the latest Louisiana wind load standards.

On July 19, contractors working with the seminary’s reconstruction contractor, Mike Moskaw, began removing the storm-damaged steeple with a massive crane. Removing the four large external pieces which form the steeple along with most of the internal structure was a complicated three-day process.

On day one, workers removed the 46-foot spire at the top of the steeple and a smaller section just below the spire over a six-hour period.

During the next two days, workers removed two large external sections as well as an 8,000 pound section of the internal steel structure. As the crane operator skillfully removed the pieces, cameras for The Times-Picayune newspaper and WWL-TV, the local CBS affiliate, recorded the event. A photo collage of the steeple removal is available online at www.nobts.edu/Publications/News/Steeple.html.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, seminary officials worked diligently to restore power and illuminate the steeple. By last October, the illuminated steeple provided a lone point of light in a sea of darkness -– the only light for miles and miles. Not only was the steeple an important symbol for members of the seminary family who returned to reclaim their belongings from the damaged campus, it offered hope throughout the city of New Orleans in the early days of the post-Katrina cleanup -- a hope that Kelley said is rooted firmly in Jesus Christ. WWL-TV reporter Sally-Ann Roberts also highlighted the lighted steeple in a news segment last fall about the seminary’s decision to remain in New Orleans.

“The steeple was the first thing we lit when power was restored,” Kelley said at the time. “It really is a light in the midst of darkness.

“We learned there is a reason why so many churches have steeples,” he said. “Whether we realize it or not, they really are beacons of hope for people in the community facing trying times.”


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