It wasn't fire and brimstone that took out the steps at the entrances to St. John's Cathedral in Boise.
Salt and chemical deicers used to melt snow off the concrete steps and rusting steel concrete-reinforcement rods caused extensive cracking that led the parish to take on a $500,000 project to replace the steps.
New steps are going in this year, with a more graceful design. They are and made of sandstone blocks the same color as the cathedral's facade.
"We came up with a new design for the stairs that is more fitting than the basic concrete steps that are there now," said Russ Phillips of Insight Architects. "It's safer. It provides people with disabilities the opportunity to come out the front doors. There will be less maintenance, and it will be more durable."
The Roman Catholic cathedral at 707 N. 8th St. is the headquarters church for the Boise Diocese and Bishop Peter Christensen. It was built in stages, with the first services held in the basement in 1912. It was finished in 1921.
The current steps, installed in 1995, were the third set.
The new steps are designed to match the cathedral's Romanesque Revival style. Sandstone used for the steps and the sides of the staircases will match that from the building.
Phillips said his company looked at concrete and precast concrete before settling on a dense sandstone quarried in central Montana. That sandstone is more durable than what is found locally and three to four times stronger, he said. The blocks won't have any reinforced steel.
"We designed it so each step could be removed if ever needed," Phillips said.
Phillips said he hopes the steps will last 100 years or more.
The current steps on the front of the building, facing 8th Street, include a 4-foot landing and cascading steps along the entire length of the front of the building facing 8th Street. The new design's landing extends 23 feet from the building with a set of stairs on each side. The new steps will also be easier to navigate, Phillips said.
Work on the 8th Street side is expected to begin in June and take six to eight months.
Crews have been working on the south, or Hays Street, side for the past six months. That work should be completed in about a month, Phillips said.
"I like what's there now," Phillips said. "The new design will be spectacular."
A walkway that runs from the southeast corner of the church under the Hays Street steps will stay. The walkway was built about eight years ago to provide handicap access to the lower level. It includes a landscape garden and gathering space for parish events. An elevator takes people who cannot climb the steps up to the inside of the cathedral.
The cathedral was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
John Sowell 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell