A photo of Raley Chapel from before the April 19, 2023 tornado
Features Spring 2024

What’s Next for Raley Chapel

Raley Chapel, a beloved symbol of the University’s rich history, has faithfully sheltered generations of students, faculty and visitors since 1961. When the tornado swept across campus the evening of April 19, the iconic building, along with Shawnee Hall, received the lion’s share of damage.

As the 135-mph storm blew out the glass windows of the spire clock tower, the entering wind pressure traveled down through the vestibule ceiling, wreaking havoc on everything in its path. It pushed its way into Potter Auditorium, dropping debris and hazardous stormwater along the way, before ripping a hole in the ceiling, lifting the roof, and escaping again through a very large hole in the red tiles of the Raley roof at the southeast corner of the building.

Architects and structural engineers have thoroughly inspected and studied the structure to help develop a solid plan to reconstruct and revitalize this critical space for the University community. While the building is safe for use in its lower levels, Potter Auditorium is currently closed and weekly chapel services have been moved to the Recreation and Wellness Center.

Raley Chapel’s first floor, including Potter Auditorium, requires extensive repair and replacement of floors, walls, ceilings, windows, seating, furniture and other items. Stained glass windows that were damaged will be repaired by specialized artists. The Potter Auditorium roof structure is structurally sound but will also require repairs. The entire clay tile roof is being replaced with all gutters receiving new construction materials to protect from future water damage. The limestone blocks that adorn the exterior of the chapel are being cleaned and tuckpointed to ready the chapel for the next 50 years. The copper spire will be entirely replaced due to the extensive damage to its copper sheeting. The clock tower will receive new clockworks, numerals and hands.

Raley reconstruction planning is well underway with plans for completion in late 2026. Initial estimates indicate costs for the project could range to more than $15 million.

In the summer of 2016, Raley Chapel’s roof received a much-needed makeover. Under the banner of the “Revive the Roof” campaign, donors had the opportunity to personally autograph some of the new tiles that would adorn the chapel’s renewed crown.

Larry and Teri Walker, both long-time OBU employees, purchased two tiles and wrote their daughters’ names, Worthy and Amity, on each tile.

“A few days after the tornado I received a call from President (Heath) Thomas informing me that they had found Worthy’s roof tile,” Teri said. “Imagine my surprise.”

The Walkers had sheltered in Raley Chapel when the tornado hit, ripping countless tiles from the historic chapel.

“As we were leaving Raley that night,” Teri said, “I realized that the crunching sounds we heard were the broken pieces of roof tiles and other debris we were stepping on. The fact that so many students were sheltering on campus that night and walked out in one piece and that a few days later I would have a roof tile pretty much untouched with our daughter’s name on it says God is at the end of this story!”