Major renovation nears completion
Swinging from ropes all day doesn't daunt intrepid church restorers.
By MONICA BOND
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Renovation of First Presbyterian Church of Warren is progressing according to schedule, despite some surprises.
"It's costing more than we expected, and the damage was a lot worse," said the pastor, the Rev. Burt McGlawn.
He said wood in the spires and wood around the stained-glass windows was more rotted than was initially suspected.
Workers had to pretty much rebuild the base of one spire, which is 255 feet tall. "They took a piece of metal down, and some of the bricks fell into the street," the Rev. Mr. McGlawn said.
Now, all the old shingles have been stripped from the church's two spires, and copper should begin to go up around Sept. 1.
The renovation project is being done by a small crew of men who are Christian-based specialists in church restoration from Inspired Heights of Rockford, Ill.
Mr. McGlawn said the project is estimated to cost about $500,000 when finished.
"Around the first of September it will dramatically change," when the copper goes up, he said.
Workers have finished painting the windows and replacing a few pieces of glass, and are beginning the tedious process of fitting each section of the windows with protective clear one-quarter-inch plastic.
Mr. McGlawn said the renovation project should be finished by the end of September.
The workmen hang from the spires and the front of the church in an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys. The men stay up there almost all day and bring lunch up with them, the pastor explained. Tools and wood they need for their work are pulled up in buckets.
"They're repairing loose boards and covering the outside with roofing felt," he said of the men working on the spires.
The stained-glass windows had been covered with a plexiglass that had a milky tint, Mr. McGlawn said.
"In the '70s, many churches were being vandalized, so they put up this plastic to downplay the beauty of the windows," he said.
The old plastic was removed, and the window frames were reinforced with an epoxy, sanded and painted. The old plastic covered the windows in large sheets; the new clear plastic will be carefully cut and fitted to each section of the windows, leaving the painted wood exposed.
Mr. McGlawn said he is not concerned about vandalism but is concerned that the stained-glass windows aren't weather-tight.
The project has expanded since it was begun in the end of April: The capstone brick, made of sandstone, will be cleaned. Stone that was initially a light color is now black because of pollution from the old steel mills, he said. It will be restored to a much lighter shade.
First Presbyterian is the oldest church in town and the oldest congregation in Warren, having been organized in 1803. The church was built in 1875 at Mahoning Avenue and High Street. It has 350 members, down from its high of 1,200 in the 1960s.