What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
The National Cathedral is seeking federal dollars to help repair some of the damage resulting from this summer’s surprise earthquake. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said last week that he’s aware that it’s tricky to ask for federal money to repair a religious structure – but that the Cathedral is a place that “transcends” religion. We get an update on the repair efforts.
- Andrew Hullinger Senior Director of Finance and Administration, National Cathedral
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the tangled history of Washington's Jewish community and the Civil War, but first, aftershocks at the National Cathedral from this summer's surprise earthquake. The tremors Washington experienced this past August paled in comparison to the massive earthquake that killed hundreds of people in Turkey yesterday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINevertheless, it's become clear that the August quake has caused millions upon millions of dollars worth of damage at some of the city's most visible landmarks. Last week, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray asked for $15 million worth of federal help to make repairs at the National Cathedral, money he says is necessary to restore a building whose significance to the city transcends religion.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore the extent of the damage at the cathedral and the argument for why federal aid is necessary is Andrew Hullinger. He is the senior director of finance and administration at the National Cathedral. Andrew Hullinger, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANDREW HULLINGERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls, questions at 800-433-8850. How do you feel about the idea of using federal money to help make earthquake-related repairs at a religious institution? Would you say the National Cathedral is a place in Washington that transcends religion? 800-433-8850. We experienced the earthquake four floors up here at WAMU back in August. I was sitting in this very chair, just about a mile up Wisconsin Avenue from the cathedral grounds.
NNAMDIBut we didn't suffer any kind of damage that compared to what happened on your end of the street. At this point, what's the assessment of the total damage caused by the quake on the cathedral grounds?
HULLINGERWell, Kojo, the assessment is still ongoing. We have had a team of structural engineers that had been with us literally since the day after the earthquake. We've been combing over the building from the highest pinnacles all the way to the lowest levels of our crypt. And we have, I think, at this point a pretty clear sense of the damage. It's been well-publicized in certain places. There was a wonderful article in The Post yesterday on the front page of the Metro that sort of showed some highlights. But if I can just recapture some of those...
HULLINGER...the most visible for us, as people drive down Wisconsin Avenue, and, probably, you can see this from all over town, the pinnacles atop the central tower were all, you know, damaged tremendously during the earthquake. And at least one of them toppled over completely, and the other three were literally shaken apart by the earthquake. And so we've been engaged in the last several weeks of the painstaking process of actually taking those things apart.
HULLINGERA lot of the damage at the cathedral is very high up off the ground. So to the naked eye when you drive by, you might not actually get a sense that there is much damage. But when you get up closer, if you're actually able, like I am, to be able to walk up on the roof, along the rooflines, you can see that many of the pinnacles, not only on the central tower but atop the buttresses that support the cathedral, were shaken loose as well.
HULLINGERAnd in places -- they rotated in places. They've laterally shifted. We've been in the process of trying to secure the ones that we can and take down ones that we are able to reach. That covers a lot of what's on the outside. The other area that's a real concern for us is some of the buttresses in the older end of the cathedral experienced some significant cracking. The building itself is structurally sound, and the engineers have really assured us of that.
HULLINGERSo that's very good news. But the cracks in the buttresses are significant, and there are things that we're going to need to repair, stabilize and repair. You know, when -- the earthquake was a 100-year event or so, we think, but we want to make sure that those buttresses are solid and stable. When we turn our attention to the inside of the building, we begin to see that, you know, again, the building is secure. It's stable. But the high vaulting in the cathedral is -- essentially, all of the pieces have mortar joints.
HULLINGERAnd the shaking of the earthquake broke those joints and cracked them. And so the vaulting is stable, but we've got a very, very large project ahead of us to actually get up to those joints and repoint them and essentially go back and strengthen them and redo them.
NNAMDIYou may have, in fact, answered my next question because your head stone mason told WAMU's Patrick Madden last week that he expects that it will take at least two years to repair the tower and restore some of the stonework, and, I guess, in a way, you just explained the kind of work that involves.
HULLINGERYeah. Joe Alonso, the head mason at the cathedral, is fond of reminding us all that the cathedral was a building that was made by hands. It's an entirely handmade building. Each of those stones was individually carved and set in place by hand. So the process to repair it is going to be long and painstaking. It will require the remaking of several of those pieces, many of those pieces. You know, there's been some news about some of our decorative sculptures, the gargoyles, which are sort of iconic on the building, the angels that have been carved.
HULLINGERSome of those will need to be completely redone. We're blessed that we've got a couple of stonemasons on the staff who are skilled stone carvers. And so they will be able to do that work, but it's painstaking. Each piece takes weeks and months to complete, so there will be a long period of time for us to repair the building.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're speaking with Andrew Hullinger, senior director of finance and administration at the National Cathedral, about the earthquake damage to the cathedral and the request by Mayor Vincent Gray for $15 million or so in federal aid. We're taking your questions at 800-433-8850. Where do you think the National Cathedral fits into the list of iconic landmarks in the Washington region?
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about the damage the recent earthquake caused there? 800-433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org., a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Andrew, could you put on your headphones as we go to the telephone and speak with Henry in Arlington, Va.? Henry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HENRYYeah, my question is for a national -- or certainly on a regional landmark, why wouldn't the insurance managers of the National Cathedral have casualty insurance that would cover this so they don't need a federal grant? And if they did, how much is it, or was it inadequate? Or if they didn't have it, why not?
HULLINGERThe sad truth about earthquake insurance at the cathedral is that we did not have any. We do not have any. We did explore that many years ago, and the premiums and the deductibles were judged to be too high for that to be an effective investment for us. I think that, you know, what we're looking at today -- I know that the policies that were being discussed back then would not have covered the level of damages that we sustained.
HULLINGERI thick that there's many of us who would certainly look back and wished that maybe we had made a different decision, but that is the reality of where we are right now. We did not have earthquake insurance to cover any of these damages.
NNAMDIHenry, thank you very much for your call. You say it's a one-in-100-years event, and, presumably, that's one of the reasons why earthquake insurance was not a priority.
HULLINGERThat is correct.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the cathedral does not run on any kind of federal funding as is that you mostly rely on private money. How would you describe the financial model that the cathedral works off of?
HULLINGERThe financial model of the cathedral is really one that depends primarily on private philanthropic donations. Our operating budget is approximately $15 million in our recently completed fiscal '11. And about 65 percent of that is funded from current-period donations that another 15 percent on top of that is funded by our endowment draw, which is a source of income that a lot of nonprofits rely on -- part of their ongoing operations.
HULLINGERWe're very pleased that -- to say that our endowment draw itself is a very, very, what we believe, responsible 5 percent draw on our overall endowment to support our operations.
NNAMDIWhat are your concerns about whether the pie for federal emergency funds has been cut too slim for the cathedral to get a piece of it at this point? FEMA recently rejected a request for funds in Louisa County in Virginia, and that's where scientists have determined was the epicenter of the quake.
HULLINGERKojo, we are certainly hopeful that FEMA will grant us some money through this. But in the event that we don't receive any money at all, we will essentially go back to the model that has been in place since the cathedral was first envisioned. The funding for the -- to build the building over the course of 83 years was completely funded by private donations, and we still have a National Cathedral Association, a group of folks, coast to coast, who are -- have expressed a love and a concern for the cathedral.
HULLINGERWe will certainly turn to our National Cathedral friends, cathedral association friends, and we will also turn to the public at large and make the case that this is the nation's cathedral. And it's a building worthy of their support.
NNAMDIWhat are the cathedral's financial relationship with church entities? Are they funded by any church or religious organization?
HULLINGERThe cathedral receives no funding directly from the diocese of Washington of which it is a part. It receives no money from the National Episcopal Church. We have -- I am very pleased to say -- received some donations from some of our local parishes, donations specifically to help us with the reconstruction of the cathedral, and we can extend that beyond the Episcopal Church, the archdiocese of Washington.
HULLINGERThe Catholic archdiocese provided us with a very generous gift to help with reconstruction. And one of the things, I think, that touches us most deeply is that we received a gift from the cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was devastated by an earthquake earlier in the year. And it's really -- it's quite touching to know that your troubles are being felt by folks completely on the other side of the world and people whose problems are probably much worse than ours.
NNAMDIWell, let me go to two dueling opinions about the predictable issue before I ask you to give a response to it. Here first is Veronica in Rockville, Md. Veronica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VERONICAHi. I just want to say that I didn't think the federal government should provide funds to fix the building. It's not the functional parts that are broken. If we want to repave our parking lot or fix our roof in our parish, we have to raise the money ourselves. I think you should continue pursuing gifts from people that are continuing to give money.
NNAMDIOkay, Veronica, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Joe in Washington, D.C. Jo, your turn.
JOHi. I would suggest the issue is not so much that the cathedral transcends religion. I think it is more associated with the precise position on separation of church and state. You know, this country has never established an official religion, and I think that you look at examples of that, though, that contradict, which include the Red Mass that precedes the opening of the Supreme Court, and then you add in how the Cathedral has increasingly played a role in the central part of country as each event unfolds, you know, funerals, services and Thanksgiving and prayer for the country.
JOSo I think it is more a matter of respecting the fact that this, although named on an Episcopal church, is a place of national focus in times of need. And I'll take your comments off the air.
NNAMDISo you think that the federal government should assist with the repairs?
JOOh, yes. Oh, yes, absolutely.
NNAMDIWell, we have different opinions here. Mayor Vincent Gray tried to make part of the sell for you last week. He said that he was aware of the criticism of federal funding being used to support a religious institution, but that the National Cathedral is a place in Washington that, as we said earlier in his view, transcends religion. How do you make that case if you have to make that case on your own? Or did Jo, essentially, make a very good case for you?
HULLINGERWell, you know, I think she did. We would certainly acknowledge that there are going to be different views on this. And our point of view is certainly one of the Cathedral is, yes, it is a church, and we won't hide from that. But it is, we believe, more than a church in terms of its unique architecture, its unique role in tourism in the District of Columbia and the nation. We welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to come and enjoy both buildings and the grounds.
HULLINGERBut the building, especially, is -- you know, we see ourselves in a sort of a unique position. We do host the inaugural prayer breakfast every year for every president. So every four years, presidential funerals are held at the Cathedral. And so our belief is that the Cathedral is in a unique place. It's also worth mentioning that last year in 2010, we were awarded a Saving America's Treasures grant from the National Park Service.
HULLINGERSo to that extent, they -- perhaps this issue of separation of church and state has already been viewed through this lens, that this is a unique treasure in the country and an architecturally unique building. It is certainly -- it is a national landmark, and so there are many reasons why we (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWe should note that the Cathedral has been closed to the public since the quake in August, but that you recently announced the date when it will be reopened next month. What's the plan?
HULLINGERThe plan is that we will be reopened on Nov. 12. We are celebrating the consecration of the 9th Bishop of Washington, Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde, the reverend doctor. And we -- that is part of our role as the Cathedral for the diocese of Washington, is to host events of that nature, and we will be open for that event.
NNAMDIAnd you'll be continuing to stay open after that?
HULLINGERWe will be reopened to visitors after that, and we would welcome any and all people to come by and visit us.
NNAMDIAndrew Hullinger is the senior director of finance and administration at the National Cathedral. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the tangled history of Washington's Jewish Community and the Civil War. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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