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San Antonio university celebrates raising of two-ton spire after fire

.- Almost two years after a four-alarm fire destroyed a historic, architectural feature of Our Lady of the Lake University’s Main Building, a rebuilt spire weighing 5,000 pounds was raised and set atop of the north tower on April 21. A celebration featuring food, drinks and music preceded the raising of the spire.

The original spire — part of the campus building that opened in 1896 — toppled in flames from Main on May 6, 2008. A local company, Progressive Solutions, reconstructed the spire using modern and traditional methods to ensure it matches the surviving south spire. On March 31, a flatbed trailer delivered the rebuilt spire from Progressive Solutions — located on Broadway — to the campus.

The oversized load required special permits, escorts and a route specified by the Texas Department of Transportation. A crane lifted the two-and-a-half ton structure and placed it in front of Main and cheers rose from assembled faculty and staff on 24th Street.

Bartlett Cocke, the general contractor for Main Building, prepared the site for the spire. Bricks that were damaged or destroyed during the fire were replaced and the structure secured. In addition, installation of shingles on the surrounding rooftop was completed for the spire raising.

When the spire was raised, a crested railing was added to the roof on both sides of the statue of Mary. The crested railing is an original architectural feature that was removed at some point in the history of the building.

To recreate the railing, artisan Roman Peña studied old photos of Main building and created a drawing of the railing. He then carved a form out of wood. The form was used to make a mold and that was used to create a cast aluminum railing. He used a similar process to recreate two weather vanes that used to sit atop the two spires.

Recreating these architectural features will assist OLLU with seeking National Register historic designation for Main when it is complete.

Sister Jane Ann Slater, superior general of the Congregation of the Divine Providence, offered a prayer and a special blessing. Carlos Gonzalez, OLLU Student Government Association president, also spoke, and OLLU music major Mallorie Gonzales sang “On Eagles Wings” as the spire was raised.

OLLU President Dr. Tessa Martinez Pollack delivered remarks on the historical significance of the day.

“I have a little bit of déjà vu being here, but it has a different tenor today, as there is hope and optimism,” said Martinez Pollack. “This is another transformation an institution and family undergoes when it experiences an event not of its choosing. This represents our ascent.”

The OLLU president said the return of the spire was not just about replacing a piece of missing architecture, but a renewal of the spirit made possible by the tireless work of university faculty and staff, who have been working in cramped temporary quarters following the loss of the building.

Prior to the spire raising, OLLU announced InSpire, a new year-long program that will cover all tuition and fees for qualifying freshman students that will begin with the entering fall class of 2010.

In addition to covering tuition and fees, the program will offer enhanced mentoring and experiential learning opportunities focused on meeting their high aspirations for a college education.

Through InSpire, OLLU is going beyond its financial support for students in order to add value to their educations, to increase their persistence toward graduation and to ultimately receive their degrees. The initiative is one part of the university’s goal to provide 100 percent of students with an internship prior to graduation. At present, over 50 percent of OLLU students complete an internship as undergraduates.

Printed with permission from Today's Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of San Antonio.

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