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St. Paul the Apostle Church completes first major restoration in 18 years

St. Paul the Apostle Church in Gurnee just completed an ambitious cleaning and restoration of its main worship area, the first since the parish opened at Hunt Club and Gages Lake roads in 1998, and it only took 30 days.

The work was done by Lincolnwood-based Fortune Restoration, a family-owned company that is one of the few contractors approved by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Department of Facilities and Construction.

The tight deadline was a challenge considering mass was still being held every Saturday and Sunday. This called for a lot of pew shuffling and understanding from parishioners.

“The first two weeks there was a huge scaffold in the center of the church and we just worked around it,” said Bob Sekany, the church’s business manager since day one.

Tom Fortune, co-owner of Fortune Restoration, said by the end of the first week, “I was up at night thinking I promised more than we could deliver, but our crew worked 50-hour weeks to make it all happen.”

The project included replacing huge acoustic fabric panels that had become black with dust and dirt, remounting the speakers behind the panels, repairing water-damaged drywall, replacing lightbulbs with longer-lasting and brighter LED lights and painting all of the walls, ceiling and trim.

Additionally, decorative wooden boards inside the cupola – which is a dizzying 65-feet above the ground – were cleaned, sanded and stained.

Leading the work crew was expert contractor Jose Hernandez, who has been with Fortune Restoration for 13 years.

“Jose gets the most difficult, demanding jobs,” Fortune joked.

“The painting is easy,” Hernandez said. “The (acoustic) paneling was the hardest part because they are so big.”

The crew had to be especially careful in positioning the 1,000-pound lifts that hoisted them above the ground.

“We couldn’t have the lifts sitting next to each other because an engineer told us it was too much stress on the wood floor. We had to spread the weight around,” Sekany said.

As a result, Hernandez developed a rope and pulley system to bring down the long acoustic panels so the fabric could be replaced.

“We could only have one lift to take down a panel at a time,” Sekany said. “The guys on the lift would tie a noose around one end and put it over a 2x4 above the panel in the ceiling. Guys would be on the floor lowering the panel on one end while the guys on the lift held the other end, and they came down together. It was pretty clever.”

Rev. Gregory Houck said infrastructure changes, such as mounting the speakers behind the acoustic panels so they’re not visible, has helped restore the church to the architect’s original plan.

“It looks beautiful,” he said.

With the speakers now out of the way, the church can project images behind the altar during mass. On Oct. 1, the church will project a PowerPoint presentation of the “state of the parish.”

The ceiling lights above the altar were also properly angled so Houck could see better.

“It was really difficult to do evening mass. It was so dark. It’s nice and bright now,” he said.

The restoration project was funded through a capital campaign that began in October 2012 and raised $1.3 million. The money was also used to replace the carpet and air-conditioning system and repay all church loans, making them debt-free. A new campaign is forthcoming to pay for future repairs and building maintenance.

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