NEW YORK – While the dollar amount of the pledges to the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine is impressive – $35.76 million to date – communities rooted in humble origins in homelands like Greece are still touched by in-kind contributions, and on December 21 the principals and families of the Titan Group and Corona Ready Mix received a special tour of the construction site at Ground Zero in appreciation of their donating all the concrete for the new Church.
Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Archdiocese’s Executive Director of Administration Jerry Dimitriou led the tour on a crisp winter’s day and St. Nicholas project assistant Andrew Veniopoulos was also present to answer questions.
Fr. Karloutsos noted that since the new church will rise from ground 25 feet above the rest of Ground Zero, it can be properly called an acropolis, which brought to mind another noble donation. The Venus Marble Group is providing the Church with its translucent outer skin, marble from Mount Pentelikon, the source of the Parthenon’s marble.
Chairman P.J. Mechanical Corp. Peter J. Pappas Sr. can be said to have provided the guts of the building, all the heating and ventilation systems – but of course, the Church’s soul will consist of the parishioners who will fill its pews and participate in the community’s life.
“This will be one of the most unique churches in the Archdiocese and it will become a national shrine,” Fr. Karloutsos said, because it will be a symbol of religious freedom, tolerance, righteousness and reconciliation. There will be a bereavement center…and there will be interactive technology that will give people the opportunity to learn about our Church history and the legacy of the Greeks in America.”
He noted that Ellis Island was nearby and that for decades when Greek immigrants arrived, crying at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, the first place they went to was St. Nicholas to light a candle. “We are carrying on a great legacy,” he said, and turning to the guests he told them “you are literally building the foundation with your concrete, and I want to express the gratitude of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and all the faithful.”
CONCRETE FLOOR TO BE LAID IN JANUARY
Dimitriou told TNH the concrete for the Church’s floor will be poured in second week of January and explained that the delay was due to the decision to take extra care with and build some redundancy into the HVAC systems and add pipes for possible future wiring needs since the interstitial space housing them between the floor and roof of the VSC will be difficult to access once the concrete is poured.
Guests were delighted to see that Liberty Park, which will be the Church’s court yard, is nearing completion, most trees, bushes and paving stones in place.
Fr. Karloutsos pointed to all the activity and structures and declared “this is our community” and noted with pride that Greek-Americans are the only ethnic group that has been permitted to build a church on government land, due to the fact that St. Nicholas was the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11.
Corona Ready Mix co-owners Paul Melis and John Vasilantonakis were present, the former with his children Ariana and Nicholas latter with his wife Eve and children Steven and Stella Marie and Gabriele.
They hosted a luncheon afterwards where Melis acknowledged the presence of Frs. Paul Palesty, Pastor of St. Nicholas in Flushing and Fr. Damaskinos Ganas of Kimisis in Brooklyn “who have always been there for our families…and we appreciate all the hard work you do.”
Melis is proud to help build “a national shrine of Greek Orthodoxy…and a sanctuary to remember the souls lost on 9/11. May it stand proudly for generations to come.”
Asked why they gave the gift, he told TNH that he and Vasilantonakis “are thankful for the good blessings we were given as a family, and the opportunity to give back to the community and pass down our traditions to the next generation is the greatest legacy anyone can have.”
Titan Group CEO Dimitri Papalexopoulos participated with his wife Amy Galanos and daughter Marina, and expressing appreciation was also a factor for Titan.
Papalexopoulos revealed that Aris Papadopopulos, past CEO of Titan America was at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. “His survival was a miracle. He had a 9:00 AM appointment with the Port Authority on the 85th floor…but a colleague told him ‘let’s get a cup of coffee. It’s OK to be five minutes late.”
CEO Titan America Bill Zarkalis was accompanied by other top company officials and his wife Colleen. He told TNH “this is a remarkable day for us. We are very proud to participate in the rebuilding on St. Nicholas. Titan is an international company and wherever we conduct business we want to be members of the community.”
Melis told TNH that Titan sends the material and Corona Ready Mix produces the concrete and delivers it. Despite being a non-union company, by working closely with the Archdiocese’s representative, Peter Karamitsanis, and they were able to get their truck onto the Port Authority site.
HOW IT IS DONE AND KEPT ON TRACK
Karamitsanis, the President of Lighthouse Advisors, provided TNH with some details about the construction process. He and David Puza of Merritt Construction Services of Connecticut oversee the design and construction of St. Nicholas. “We make sure the schedules and the budgets are kept,” a major responsibility on a Santiago Calatrava construction project.
The reason being that the spectacular effects the renowned architect creates – St. Nicholas will glow and literally light up the night sky at Ground Zero – are the result of intricate parts and processes.
Working with Calatrava and Nicholas Koutsomitis, the architect of record, Karamitsanis told TNH the company oversees “the whole design and technical team and construction.” His company has 17 years’ experience in specialty construction, including another Calatrava project.
He explained that “Calatrava buildings have no tolerances. They are designed to exact measurements, so the form work the Church is very complicated…we will have fulltime surveyors laying out every bolt, piece, and form to makes sure when everything comes together they actually fit.”
“What Calatrava presented to Archbishop Demetrios is a church that will glow at night like 10,000 candles,” he said, and to make that happen, the church’s translucent outer shell that is attached to the concrete inner structure will be back lit, and its creation is a complex undertaking.
“It is made of a piece of glass, a piece of marble and another piece of glass. The marble is cut in mount Pentelikon; it goes to Germany to be cut down to three millimeters thickness and is polished, then it goes to Austria where it is fused with the glass,” he said.
The pieces then go to Minneapolis, where they are put onto panels, which are then brought to New York. After the supporting metalwork is applied to the inner concrete shell, the panels are attached.
Karamitsanis, whose parents are from near Corinth – he grew up in Athens and earned his architecture degree at the University of Michigan – says the concrete inner shell should be up within 10 or eleven months, and then the interior work will begin and the marble/glass panels will be attached.
“The dome will probably be ready by the end of 2016 and…we expect to finish in late summer, early fall 2017,” he said.