By LINDA M. LINONIS
Steeples often are the crowning glory of a church.
But the one at First Unitarian Universalist Church has fallen into disrepair, and the congregation has taken action to avert a safety hazard.
Brock Builders Inc. is preparing the steeple for removal. If the weather cooperates and preparation progress goes as expected this week, the steeple will be removed next week.
Brian Brock, owner of the general contracting
company, said the project is challenging, but he has some experience. In 2004, his company rebuilt and reset the steeple at St. James Episcopal Church in Boardman after it was damaged by a fire.
The Rev. Matt Alspaugh, pastor of the church at 1105 Elm St., found plans detailing the design and dimensions of the 96-foot-6-inch steeple. The brick base is about 34 feet; the louvre, which has water damage, is 18 feet; the lantern, which has windows, is 7 feet; and the spire is 37 feet.
Brock estimated that the spire and lantern weigh about 6,000 pounds. The windows in the lantern will be taken out before it’s taken down. These two pieces will be removed as one section. “We’ll have rigging around it,” he said. Lifts are being installed for the removal process.
A crane will be used to lower the spire and lantern. Once on the ground, the two parts will be separated, crated and then trucked to storage. The Rev. Mr. Alspaugh said Sarah Lown, a church member, made arrangements with CASTLO Industrial Park in Struthers to store the pieces. The pastor said the dimensions of the spire and lantern didn’t lend themselves to storage at the church or a self-storage site. The industrial park is providing storage space for free to help the church.
The louvre, Brock said, will be demolished on site because it is not structurally sound. His company also will put a “cap” on the steeple space. Ron Faniro Architects has provided design assistance.
The church conducted its annual meeting Sunday and voted to remove the steeple. In an email, Karen O’Malia, church board president, acknowledged the “steeple had fallen into disrepair.” She said windstorms last year blew off pieces, prompting the church to address the issue. Mr. Alspaugh said pillarlike structures on the steeple were removed last April.
The pastor said the congregation of about 170 members will explore costs and options concerning the steeple. Some members would like the steeple to be restored exactly, he said, because it is located within the Wick Park Historic District.
Others are concerned about the cost of restoration, he continued, and some have suggested steeple alternatives such as solar panels or a wind turbine.
“We hope to invite all our stakeholders, our members, but also our neighbors and mission partners, the community at large, in on the discussion,” Mr. Alspaugh said. “Decisions about church buildings can sometimes become divisive, so we really want to explore all the options thoroughly. The storage option buys us time to make a thoughtful decision.”
The church, founded in 1892, originally was downtown. It moved to its current site across from Wick Park in 1925, and the sanctuary and steeple date to that year. A religious education wing was added in the 1960s.