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December 19, 2008
Column by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller
Today's Catholic Digital Edition

OLLU coming on strong

Stripped walls with arrows indicating moisture trapped within.
Carol Baass Sowa | Today’s Catholic

SAN ANTONIO • Do not doubt that Our Lady of the Lake University and its Main Building are going to come back stronger and better than before. Opened for media inspection for the first time on June 19, what amazes one when walking through the scene of the horrendous May 6 fire, is not what is gone, but how much remains.
Between the structure’s “good bones” and the incredible spirit of the Congregation of Divine Providence who built it — one that also imbues the university’s staff, faculty, students and supporters, the building is already rising from fourth floor ashes, site of the fire’s start and intensity.

Damage to the first through third floors was limited to that caused by smoke and from the powerful streams of water used to douse the ferocious flames that night, which created a veritable waterfall cascading down the building’s central stairways and seeping down hallways.

Those who have visited the first floor Renaissance Parlor in the past will be happy to know that only minor water damage occurred here and the room’s priceless historic contents were removed and are now safely stored at the sisters’ convent. Likewise, students in third floor Theresian Hall, while displaced, lost no possessions.

Following removal of debris on the now nearly roofless fourth floor, carpeting and dropped ceiling panels throughout the building have been removed, upper floor walls stripped and wainscoting and other millwork taken off and set aside for drying out. Revealed as a result are the original pressed tin ceilings and previously walled-up fireplaces.

Doors smashed or sawed open on locked classrooms, offices and dorm rooms, bear witness to the search by firefighters the night of the fire to ensure no one remained in the building and no combustibles were present to fuel the flames.

Red lines and arrows painted on third floor walls indicate where moisture remains and requires rechecking. Holes drilled in the wood floors, buckled in places, are there for the same purpose. The hum of machines still sucking moisture from saturated walls and floors to prevent growth of mold, droned in the background the day of the media tour, but will soon be drawing to a close as the assessment and rebuilding process begins.

Throughout the building, however, positive signs dominate. There are glass windows amazingly intact, ornate wood architectural elements still standing unscathed, and the tile floors fine, though temporarily covered for protection. Even on the fourth floor, which bore the brunt of the fire, many walls and the ceiling of the north portion are still in place. The fallen silver spire from the north turret, now lying on the front lawn, will be recreated, using the remaining spire as a mold. And the statue of Our Lady atop the building, visible that night amid the flames, still stands.

Most importantly, no lives were lost or persons injured, noted Dan Yoxall, vice president for marketing and communications, who added that committees were formed almost immediately on campus to address the issues involved in rebuilding this “heart” of the campus, which has stood for more than a century. “The resolution on the part of everyone in this community and beyond,” he said, "is 100 percent toward rebuilding the structure."


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