February 24, 2024
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Thomas Aquinas College seeks donations for earthquake repairs

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Thomas Aquinas College’s Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel suffered extensive damage in an Aug. 20 earthquake. (courtesy photo)

Located close to the epicenter of a 5.1 earthquake that struck near Ojai on Aug. 20, every one of Thomas Aquinas College’s 18 buildings suffered damage.

Not severe damage, but damage nonetheless. 

Damage that is estimated to cost the small Catholic college about $4 million out of pocket to repair. 

The school this month launched an earthquake recovery fund seeking donations to help pay for the restorations. The money will go in large part towards repairing two of the buildings that suffered more extensive damage.

They are the college’s chapel and the century-old Hacienda where the school’s president, Paul O’Reilly, lives.

“God is always with us,” O’Reilly wrote in a letter posted on the college’s website, appealing for donations.

“And over the decades, He has provided many generous benefactors committed to sustaining the college’s mission to educate the faithful, wise, and ethical leaders that the world desperately needs,” O’Reilly wrote.

He concluded his letter by entreating, “During this tough time, would you please support TAC’s mission and students with a gift to our earthquake relief fund?”

About $131,000 has been raised thus far.

The earthquake, centered about 12 miles from the campus, struck on a Sunday when students were arriving there for the start of the new semester the following day. It hit as the region was pounded by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hilary.

None of the students were injured during what O’Reilly termed the “hurriquake.”

The college, which has a second campus in Massachusetts, has about 540 students in all. About 367 students are enrolled at the Ojai campus.

Chris Weinkopf, the school’s executive director of college relations, said that while not acute, the damage from the trembler is extensive on campus.

“We have lots of small damages on lots of different buildings,” he told the Business Times on Oct. 20. “Every building on campus has cracks of various kinds in the plaster.”

But the Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel has more than just cracks.

The earthquake dislodged a stone from the base that supports the Our Lady statue on top of the chapel, O’Reilly said in his letter.

It also split a seam on the chapel’s lantern, causing stormwater to pour down on the sanctuary below. It cracked pilasters and pediments on the building’s façade, misaligned one of the chapel’s bells, and chipped the beams supporting the dome.

On the day of the quake, Ventura County Fire Department personnel responded to the campus and told the school not to use the chapel until a county Building and Safety inspector could look at it.

An inspector examined the chapel Monday morning and judged that only the plaza outside the structure was unsafe until an engineer could inspect it.

That allowed the school to use the chapel for its convocation – welcoming students for the new semester – that Monday.

The ceremony though had to be postponed from the morning until the afternoon to give the inspector time to survey the building.

Later in the week, an engineer confirmed there was no structural damage to the chapel.

The Hacienda’s Guadalupe Chapel and Bell Tower were more seriously damaged too.

But it and the school’s 17 other buildings are still safe to use, Weinkopf said.

Repairs to the various buildings will take years to complete, Mark Kretschmer, the college’s vice president for operations, said in an email.

Besides repairing the various drywall cracks all over campus, it will take time to coordinate how to fix the much more complicated aesthetic damage to the chapel, he said.

Repairs to the structure will involve expensive scaffolding, O’Reilly noted.

Kretschmer said the college does not yet anticipate dipping into other funding sources, such as its general fund, to help pay for the repairs.

“Not right away, but ultimately anything unfunded will add to our list of deferred maintenance,” he said.

In his appeal to potential donors, O’Reilly said, “Your gift will allow the college to restore Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel to its original splendor, befitting a House of God. 

“It will also help fund necessary repairs across the California campus, so that our students may continue to contemplate the true and good, surrounded by the beautiful,” he said.

email: mharris@pacbiztimes.com