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Notre-Dame’s Crypt and Square May Reopen in Spring


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LONDON — The crypt and parts of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s courtyard are expected to reopen to the public in the spring, Paris officials said this week — almost a year after the landmark 850-year-old building was mauled by a fire that devoured its roof, weakened its structure and sent shock waves through France and beyond.

The beloved cathedral, the park behind it and the plaza nearby have remained closed amid fears of lead contamination from the damaged church roof and spire. Dozens of workers have been repairing the building that President Emmanuel Macron vowed at the time of the blaze would reopen within five years.

This week, Paris’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, said he hoped that parts of the square in front of the cathedral would become accessible again to the public in the first half of the year “if everything goes OK.”

Mr. Grégoire told a group of lawmakers that workers would first have to remove lead traces from the site, since levels there and in the cathedral’s rubble remain a cause for significant concern.

The workers have sorted the rubble under tents set up in the forecourt, strengthened flying buttresses and other damaged parts of the buildings, and prepared to remove a massive scaffolding that had been set up around the cathedral’s roof before the fire to help workers carry out renovations.

Another deputy mayor, Karen Taïeb, said the crypt, a museum under the plaza, would reopen at the end of March if the site did not present risks of pollution.

“Obviously this depends on whether the site has been properly cleaned up, but we have been doing regular lead checks,” said Ms. Taïeb, who is in charge of historical monuments in Paris.

Ms. Taïeb and Mr. Grégoire spoke on Wednesday to lawmakers who are part of a parliamentary commission on the restoration of the church.

Mr. Grégoire did not say which parts of the forecourt would be reopened, or when. City officials have delayed the reopening several times, because the techniques used to remove lead traces are dependent on the weather.

The French authorities were criticized last summer for not cleaning nearby schools, day care centers and public parks that were contaminated with toxic dust, sowing confusion that officials may have privileged the cathedral’s reconstruction over safety.

On the plaza — which has remained open to workers and security employees, many of whom worked without protection in the first weeks after the fire — lead levels were up to 1,300 times above the French safety guidelines, according to confidential measurements made by the government and obtained by The New York Times in August. On nearby pavements and in the immediate surroundings of the construction site, lead levels were 955 times above the threshold.

On the site, construction workers are expected to start removing the damaged scaffolding this month, an essential step in renovating the cathedral. The operation, which will take months to complete, has been delayed because of poor weather conditions.

The construction site and fears of lead pollution have affected nearby businesses, Mr. Grégoire told the lawmakers. Officials have promised compensations of up to 10,000 euros, about $10,800, per business.

Much of the debate over the renovation has focused on whether the damaged parts of the cathedral, mostly its roof and its 19th-century spire, should be rebuilt in the original style or be given a modern makeover.

The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has called for the building to be restored exactly how it was before the fire. And this week the head of a group of businesses that work on historical monuments told lawmakers that there was no reason to renovate Notre-Dame differently.

“There was a wooden framework. We have all the data — we are able to rebuild exactly as it was before, with the same material, wood, stone, lead,” said the group’s leader, Frédéric Letoffé.

Asked about Mr. Macron’s five-year time frame, Mr. Letoffé said the cathedral might reopen by then, but added that it was “hard to say” whether the entire renovation would be completed.

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