Blessed Sacrament repairs tower, spire
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
March 31, 2005
With this being the Year of the Eucharist and the Sioux City parish named
Blessed Sacrament, Father Merlin Schrad said it is a fitting time to restore the
tower and spire of the church.
"What greater gift can we give God than to rebuild his home?" asked
the pastor. "For the last 83 years, parishioners have had great pride in
their parish at Blessed Sacrament. They built this beautiful complex 50 years
ago. It was that generation who took pride in their Catholic faith and made
sacrifices to make it possible and now it is our turn to recommit ourselves to
once again make our structure beautiful and safe so we can pass it on to the
The $1.4 to $1.5 million tower renovation project is being done using the
theme Pride in Our Past, Commitment to Our Future.
About four or five years ago the parish began to investigate what to do about
the tower and spire. Moisture problems had existed for years. Father Schrad had
been told that the moisture problems in the tower began about 40 years ago, just
about 10 years after it was built.
An architectural and engineering firm that specializes in evaluating the
strength and stability of structures - Wiss, Janney and Elstner Associates (WJE)
out of Northbrook, Ill. - was hired to evaluate the tower. The parish facilities
committee requested this study.
"Because we had just come off of a major renovation, we didn't have the
funds for this so we were just going to watch it. When the evaluation came back
two years ago, it stated that there was more damage than they had originally
believed," said Father Schrad. "The building was shifting. In one
case, the northern pillar had moved five inches. This last spring they were
concerned that the pillar might not last another tough winter - it could fall
For safety reasons, the pastor said they had to make a decision as to what to
do with the tower. In addition to looking at renovating and reinforcing it, they
also investigated tearing it down. They learned that it would cost just as much
to take the tower down as it would to restore it and then that would have ruined
the architectural presence of the overall church complex.
Once it was determined they would move forward with the renovation, WJE
helped the parish with the bidding process. Four firms bid the job and it was
awarded to Mark 1 out of Dolton, Ill.
"This is a firm that specializes in rebuilding and saving historic
buildings. They are currently working on the capitol building in Lincoln,
Neb.," noted Father Schrad. The firm has also worked on skyscrapers in the
Chicago area as well as several churches.
Bob Zydlo, project foreman, said Mark 1 specializes in taking something that
"was in bad shape and restoring it back to its original state."
Zydlo heads up the crew of 10 craftsmen - bricklayers and masons. Five of the
men are from Poland, one is from the Czech Republic, one is from Chile, two from
Mexico and Zydlo is a native of Chicago with a Polish background. They came on
site in October.
The whole crew happens to be Catholic. They attend Mass at Blessed Sacrament
on the weekends and even went to the parish dinner. It's not uncommon for them
to visit with parishioners at the Friday coffee groups.
"They really like the community. Some of them have said that they are
going to bring their families here to look over the Sioux City community,"
said Father Schrad.
Zydlo, who has been in the business for 20 years and with Mark 1 for eight,
mentioned that for him this has been the largest scale church project. The fact
that they are all members of the faith does make working on a Catholic Church
all the more gratifying.
"Everyone has been really great and they have treated the crew very
nice. Through the holidays they would bring us stuff and give us cards. You
don't get that kind of stuff in the city. It's been a good experience," he
While there was damage to the tower, Zydlo's first impression was that it was
definitely worth saving. Overall, he found the building to be very strong and
"To build that today, you really can't because it would be too
expensive. It is something that you won't see again - all the detail in the
stone, the material and all of the craftsmanship that was involved there,"
said Zydlo. "They just don't build them like this anymore."
Father Schrad pointed out that the traceries, the decorative open areas
between the pillars on the tower, is believed to be the cause of the moisture
problem early on.
"Because of the Iowa winters, the moisture would get in through the
traceries and be trapped, causing the moisture damage on the inside," said
Zydlo agreed that in Iowa's weather conditions with the constant freeze and
thaw, it ultimately destroyed the interior backup of the tower.
He added that through the good intentions of caulking cracks over the years,
it resulted in more problems as the caulking didn't allow the limestone to
In all, about 9,600 pieces of limestone have been removed. Zydlo estimated
this to be about one-half of the stones from the whole tower as the pillars have
limestone on three sides. The majority of the stones that were taken down will
be reused after they are sand- and water-blasted along with all of the caulking
removed by hand. Some of the damaged pieces will be replaced.
"We did order just enough limestone for the west side. We went back to
the original place - the original mine - where we got our limestone. We think it
will be a natural match," noted Father Schrad.
Plans are to replace the open traceries with darkened glass. Vents will be
placed at the top and bottom so air may continue to circulate through the tower.
Each side of the tower has three pillars. The pillars are where most of the
damage is concentrated.
"All of the limestone on the pillars has been completely taken
off," noted Father Schrad. "In the pillars there are three layers of
brick. Most of the red bricks have deteriorated behind the first area of
limestone. The middle brick is okay and the inside brick in the tower has also
disintegrated to some point. They will replace the red brick inside, rebuild the
outside brick and put the limestone back on."
There are also a few corners that are in bad shape.
In the end, the tower will look much the same other than the dark glass in
the traceries. But, the pastor stressed, it will be "completely rebuilt and
will be safer than it ever was."
The triangular-shaped large pieces at the tops of the pillars, called
doghouses, weigh about 3,000 pounds each. Two years ago, they did some emergency
pinning to one of the doghouses. Since that time, the stone has moved another
couple of inches so it will be redone.
"Our worry was if the spire was safe or if it would have to be taken
down. If you really look close, you can see some gaps where there has been some
shifting," noted the pastor. "When they got up there, they found out
that this area was pretty safe."
Other parts of the structure were in worse shape than originally expected.
Steps have been taken to add strength to it.
They did remove 32 to 40 of the large limestones from the spire and reset
them as they had shifted in the settling through the years. These limestones
have been reclamped to reinforce the strength of the spire.
Father Schrad pointed out that they had assumed a good portion of the
limestones were been pinned - secured from the back to the front - but as
limestone was removed, they could only find about one or two pins.
"We are going to put in about 800 pins," said Father Schrad, who
explained how on each end of the pin, it wings out to anchor and reinforce the
hold. "We can say it will be a lot stronger structure than it was when it
was built." The pins will be strategically placed throughout the tower.
WJE's Tim Crowe, who serves as the project consultant, has supervised the
placement of the pins and clamps. With visits to Sioux City about every two to
three weeks, Crowe keeps a close eye on the project's progress.
"Nothing is able to be changed unless it meets his criteria," noted
While the bulk of the work revolves around the brick, mortar and limestone,
this project will also include a new roof and drainage work located at the top
of the tower and base of the spire.
"Once it is done, it will look brand new and will last for
generations," said Zydlo.
Father Schrad mentioned that as they investigate ways to pay for this
restoration, they will also consider setting up a fund to help with ongoing
"As a priest, sometimes you wonder why you move from place to place and
I feel that God has sent me here to work with the members of Blessed Sacrament
Parish at this time to rebuild and make safe this beautiful complex," said
the pastor. "To maintain buildings is something I have always liked to do.
I'm glad I can join with this generation of the Blessed Sacrament family to
provide a legacy for future generations."