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Construction halted at church destroyed in Sept. 11 attacks

(AP) Construction on a Greek Orthodox church to replace one that was crushed in the Sept. 11 attacks has been temporarily suspended.

In this Aug. 10, 2017 file photo, a construction worker walks in front of the St. Nicholas National Shrine under construction in Manhattan. The original church was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terror attack but construction on the new church has been suspended.  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Construction on a Greek Orthodox church to replace one that was crushed in the Sept. 11 attacks has been temporarily suspended amid rising costs and questions over how donations have been managed.

The St. Nicholas National Shrine next to the World Trade Center memorial plaza was to replace a tiny church that was obliterated by the trade center’s south tower.

The new building was designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, who also created the soaring white bird-like mall and transit hub nearby called the Oculus.

But unlike the transit hub, built largely with federal transportation dollars, the church is being funded through donations including from the Greek government, Greek Orthodox church members around the world, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Italian city of Bari, whose patron saint is St. Nicholas.

In September, the estimated cost was $50 million. But according to The New York Times, which first reported the work suspension, the cost had jumped to an estimated $72 million to $78 million as of earlier this month.

Two firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers and BakerHostetler, had been hired to perform an independent investigation into the construction, according to a Dec. 9 statement posted on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The stoppage was ordered by the construction company on the project, Skansa, according to the statement.

In this Aug. 10, 2017 file photo, construction workers adjust a temporary cross on the St. Nicholas National Shrine in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

“The archdiocese is confidently hopeful that construction will recommence in the very near future and has been assured by Skanska … that they are looking forward to the rescinding of this temporary suspension to continue working together in cooperation with the archdiocese for the completion of the building project,” the statement read.

Skansa didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, based in New York, represents more than 500 parishes across the country with more than 1.5 million members of the church and 800 priests. It reported last fall that it was suffering from a “severe and complex” financial deficit.

The St. Nicholas shrine, meant as a salve for the faithful and also as a welcoming space for those wishing to reflect, was inspired by two Byzantine shrines in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora. The building was to be sheathed in marble from quarries north of Athens — the same vein of marble that was used to build the Parthenon.

The original St. Nicholas was far more modest. The building housed a tavern when Greek immigrants bought it in 1919 to use as a church. It was the only building not part of the trade center complex that was demolished after hijackers flew commercial jets into the towers.

The new church is being built a few dozen yards (meters) west of the old St. Nicholas on top of the screening facility for trucks entering the trade center site. The land swap between church officials and government agencies involved in rebuilding lower Manhattan took years to settle, delaying the start of construction.

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