By LINDA M. LINONIS
It’s comforting to think that divine providence backed up the skill it took to remove the steeple at First Unitarian Universalist Church.
No property was damaged or people hurt in the time-consuming project that was accomplished safely Tuesday after preparation by Brock Builders that began last week. The plan called for removing the spire and lantern as one piece from another structure, the louvre. Windows in the lantern were taken out; wooden braces were put in place and rigging attached.
Brian Brock of the general contracting company said his crew arrived about 7 a.m. Tuesday. At midmorning, crew members were using chain saws to separate the 7-foot-tall lantern from the 18-foot louvre, which had water damage. The overall height of the steeple was 96 feet 6 inches including the 34-foot brick base.
A first try to move the spire and lantern stopped after the crew realized something was still holding them to the louvre. The chain saw was used again and set the spire and lantern free.
The crane from Diamond Steel Construction Co. pulled the spire and lantern away from the louvre. After dangling for a few seconds in the air, they were lowered in a steady manner to the ground. Brock, who had estimated the spire and lantern at 6,000 pounds, said the crane scale registered 10,000 pounds.
Brock said weather conditions cooperated. “We wouldn’t have tried it if there had been wind,” he said. But the sky was sunny and the wind nearly nonexistent.
As the pieces were set on the ground of the church at 1105 Elm St., they seemed so much bigger than when atop the church. It also had been determined that the lantern was beyond salvage, the same state as the louvre. So, as the spire and lantern dangled a few inches from the ground, the lantern was cut away.
The 37-foot spire, covered in slate, was lowered to the ground and crated and transported to CASTLO Industrial Park in Struthers. Sarah Lown, a church member, made arrangements for free storage space.
The Rev. Matt Alspaugh, pastor, said members who attended services over the weekend commented about the “state of disrepair.” The pastor said he was glad members understood the urgency of removing the steeple.
A pillar on the steeple came down in a windstorm last year, and the force of the fall drove it into the ground by the church. As a safety precaution, the remaining pillars were removed last April.
“The pillar was the signal that something had to be done,” the Rev. Mr. Alspaugh said. At its annual meeting, the congregation voted to remove the steeple.
Some members watched the removal process. Joan Bushey, a six-year member, photographed it. “It was a safety issue,” she said. “It would be nice to restore ... but cost has to be considered.” She said the church will have a “lot of discussion” about what is appropriate.
Some members of the environmentally conscious church have suggested solar panels or a wind turbine. Others would like the damaged parts of the steeple to be replicated and used with the spire because the church is part of the Wick Park Historic District.
Mr. Alspaugh said storage of the spire has given the church time to “make a thoughtful decision” and involve members, neighbors, mission partners and the community at large. Brock Builders constructed a cap to cover the steeple area until a decision is made.