USAF Academy Cadet Chapel Is Still Grounded By Renovations

USAF Academy Cadet Chapel Is Still Grounded By Renovations June 18, 2024


Side view of the USAF Academy Cadet Chapel with its 17 spires pointing skyward
The 17 spires of the Cadet Chapel point skyward [Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]
Look, soaring up towards the sky! Visitors to the US Air Force Academy won’t see Superman, and they won’t see the stunning spires of the famed Cadet Chapel either. Instead, they’ll view an enormous box. Sadly, renovations and repairs started almost five years ago on the chapel are still ongoing. And the work underway requires the innovative structure be completely covered. Yes, the Cadet Chapel is still grounded by renovations.

Popular and Award-Winning Attraction

Undoubtedly the most recognizable building at the service academy, the Cadet Chapel draws numerous tourists to view this magnificent work of architecture. If fact, prior to its closure for renovations in 2019, the structure was the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado, drawing 500,000 to a million visitors annually.

A highly regarded example of modernist architecture, the Cadet Chapel received the coveted American Institute of Architects’ national Twenty-Five Year Award in 1966. Then, in 2004, as part of the Cadet Area, the accordion-like building was designated a US National Historic Landmark.


View of USAF Academy from a distance with mountains in the background and planes in the air
Mountains rise behind the Cadet Area, towering over the spires of the Cadet Chapel [Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons}

The Chapel’s Location

The Cadet Chapel couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location. Set on the 18,445-acre campus of the US Air Force Academy just north of Colorado Springs, the building has the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. Even with the mountains rising in the distance, the cadets, and the chapel which serves them, sit at an altitude of 7,258 feet above sea level.

A large, square pavilion known as the Terrazzo offers the setting for the main buildings in the Academy’s Cadet Area. There, near where the cadets eat, sleep, and study, sits the Cadet Chapel.

Uniformed cadets march in the cadet area with the Cadel Chapel and mountains in the background
The Cadet Chapel and mountains provide a scenic background for marching [Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Chapel’s Origin

Calls for an Air Force Academy came after the National Security Act of 1947 authorized the establishment of a separate military branch for the air force. Designs for this service academy’s chapel were drawn in the 1950s.  The architectural firm tasked with this project produced an aluminum-skinned chapel “pointing straight up to the sky and the heavens beyond it.”

Although initially controversial, the plans gained approval, garnering critical acclaim over the years. The original design called for twenty-one spires to soar 150 feet into the air. Due to budget constraints, the number was reduced to seventeen. Twenty-one was a nod to the twenty-one-gun salute according to our tour guide at the Academy. The significance of seventeen? He jokingly indicated that was the number of Jesus’ disciples plus the five Chiefs of Staff.

The price tag for the construction of the chapel and surrounding grounds came to $3.5 million. Gifts from individuals and various organizations provided items needed for the interior, including pipe organs and furnishings.

Cadets in camouflage uniform stand in formation in the grass with the Cadet Chapel in the background
The mountains and Cadet Chapel rise behind cadet formations [Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Chapel Layout

The 150’ high, 280’ long, aluminum, steel, and glass Cadet Chapel provides a center of worship for all faiths. This design is unusual for religious buildings because, as a non-denominational facility, it offers worship venues for several religious beliefs.

Specifically, the chapel contains Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist chapels as well as an all-faith room. Each of these spaces has its own separate entrance, and services can be held in all rooms simultaneously. The Protestant worship area occupies the level above the other chapels with seating for 1,200.

Need For Renovation

Constructions shortcomings contributed to the chapel’s deterioration with the biggest concern being water infiltration.  Water damage to the Cadet Chapel from chronic leakage ultimately led to the building’s closure in September 2019 for a $158 million renovation and restoration project.

Initially slated to be finished by November 2022, the work continues. Discovery of more asbestos than anticipated pushed back the completion date to 2027. Additionally, the extent of asbestos found during the work caused the project’s cost to increase by $60 million for mitigation. The amount of asbestos found in the chapel is mind-boggling. According to the current academy architect, more than one million cubic feet of asbestos has been removed, making this the “largest asbestos abatement project in the history of Colorado.”

Out Of Sight

While the renovation project continues, a covering hides the chapel from view. An enormous white cocoon or hangar obscures the chapel from view but allows the project to continue despite bad weather in the mountainous area. Cadets refer to the covering as “The Box.” While tourists cannot see the chapel itself during the renovation, they can take in the biggest box they’ve probably ever seen, one fourteen stories tall.

View down tree-lined sidewalk with large white box structure ahead
The Cadet Chapel is still grounded by renovations and covered by “The Box” [Picture by Alice H. Murray]

The End?

The Cadet Chapel is still grounded by renovations. Tourists and cadets alike will rejoice when the stunning Cadet Chapel is finally unboxed and no longer grounded. Until then, all must imagine the seventeen spires pointing up into the wild blue yonder. A renovated chapel is a work in progress just like the cadets it serves.


About Alice H Murray
After 35 years as a Florida adoption attorney, Alice H. Murray now pursues a different path as Operations Manager for End Game Press. With a passion for writing, she is constantly creating with words. Her work includes contributions to several Short And Sweet books, The Upper Room, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Abba’s Lessons (from CrossRiver Media), and the Northwest Florida Literary Review. Alice is a regular contributor to GO!, a quarterly Christian magazine in the Florida Panhandle, and she has three devotions a month published online by Dynamic Women in Missions. Her devotions have also appeared in compilation devotionals such as Ordinary People Extraordinary God (July 2023) and Guideposts’ Pray A Word A Day, Vol. 2 (June 2023) and pray a word for Hope (September 2023). Alice’s first book, The Secret of Chimneys, an annotated Agatha Christie mystery, was released in April 2023 with a second such book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, to be released in April 2025. On a weekly basis, Alice posts on her blog about current events with a humorous point of view at You can read more about the author here.

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