New crosses rise up in busy campus location
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
They were lifted skyward as a fretful summer ended.
Three crosses on the Grand Canyon University campus instantly became a symbol of peace, forgiveness and redemption and will mark an uncertain time when students etched, welded and polished them with hope.
The three crosses stand near GCU Arena entrance in the grassy area that flanks Building 23, where people can now quietly contemplate or snap a photo.
It marks the redemption of a wooden cross that had deteriorated and long ago was removed for construction and the resurrection of an idea — a senior class dedication project by the 2020 graduates who exited during a pandemic.
Philip Varkey is a student who put his hand to the crosses all summer, sanding and polishing the stainless steel. His brother, John, was in that 2020 graduating class.
“It was an honor to work on something like this. It’s amazing to work on something this large that will last a long time, especially since it is for the senior class and what they wanted to build to represent us,” said the junior engineering student.
“It shows to other students that our faith is a very important part of our education, and we have a job to show our faith to the community. This process also showed how different classes can provide for others.”
Varkey was joined by other students in the shop throughout the summer. Together, they took an idea and ran with it.
The idea came from Sam Yonan, last year’s President of Associated Students of Grand Canyon University. He thought one of the nation’s largest Christian universities needed highly visible crosses, a “great message to believers and non-believers who step on our campus,” he told GCU Today, and a reminder to people in unpredictable times that God is in control.
His vision merged with the Office of Student Engagement’s plans to institute a senior class dedication project.
Engineering students analyzed the proper size, considered various drawings and ordered 100 feet of stainless-steel tubing. They cut beams and angles, did the welding, sanding and etching to give it texture, and polished it.
It wasn’t easy. The middle cross is 12 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. The other two are 8.7 and 7.3 feet tall.
“How do you deal with something 12-foot long and six feet across in a shop and how do you move it?” asked Engineering Shop Manager John Berkheimer, who oversaw the construction. “We learned how to move it even though it’s not a shop to build big things like this where typically you would have overhead cranes.”
They analyzed the cross strength on its 30-inch base for worst-case scenarios (please don’t hang on the crosses) and waited until the grounds were ready for their planting.
That’s where Caroline Lobo‘s expertise became evident. Her expert eye, as the suoLL architect who has worked on countless Pono Construction projects for GCU, had the location spotted: a shady area with a large ash tree that had survived there for many years as construction boomed around it.
“It’s a beautiful tree, one of the oldest on campus, and captures the history of the place. It was a great way to pull all the pieces together and why we centered the crosses on the tree,” Lobo said. “When standing in front of it in a contemplative way, it is beautiful.”
The approach to the tree is also interesting. Lobo calls them “grasscrete pavers” — concrete shapes and blocks with grass growing through and around them.
“We wanted it to feel like the crosses were emerging from the ground,” she said.
Each cross will be backlit by spotlights, leaving an inspiring nighttime image from a perfect location with a lot of traffic near the Quad and Arena.
University Pastor and Dean of Students Dr. Tim Griffin put it in perspective earlier this summer, saying the cross represents a dark time when Jesus was crucified but hope for humanity emerged.
“The cross is so symbolic of hope and victory that to display that in this time in our nation’s history, in our world’s history, it couldn’t be more fitting,” he said.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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