Basilica gets damage inspection

Published 12:17 am Thursday, November 8, 2007

NATCHEZ — Studies are being done to determine if there is further danger to the structure of St. Mary Basilica after church officials said a July city water leak likely caused the church walls to crack.

Soil engineers are scheduled to survey the building’s support later this month, Building and Maintenance Chairman Daniel Dillard said.

“We’re going to open up the footing (supports the walls stand on) and see what’s down there,” Dillard said. “We won’t get into the soil that supports the building, but we will remove all the other soil so we can see the footing.”

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Engineers couldn’t rely on original plans for the building because they couldn’t be found, Dillard said.

“The building’s 160 years old,” he said. “Until we dig it up, we’re not absolutely sure what’s supporting it.”

In April, cracks started forming along the Catholic church’s walls. Church officials tried to pinpoint the cause, examining plumbing and the sewer system.

It turned out a city water line along Union Street in front of the church had leaked. The leak was fixed, but a city waterworks official said the water line did not appear to have caused the damage.

While surveys still have to be done, Dillard said it was a possible cause.

“To date, we have not been able to determine any more movement in the building since the day they repaired the municipal leak,” he said. “There could be a number of things, but it would be hard not to think that the water main was a major contributing factor.”

There is very little risk of any serious structural damage to the building, he said. Engineers have inspected the building’s trusses and found nothing worrisome.

“These characteristically heavy-framed building are really tolerant,” Dillard said. “They can take this kind of movement and remain stable.”

The church is also installing monitoring wells so they can keep an eye on groundwater activity in the future.