Where’s the steeple? Rainwater damage requires repairs estimated at $385,000

January 2011 Posted in News

Repair work on the steeple begins June 1.By Don Murtha

A church steeple should be on top of a tower where people can gaze up at it.

So why is the steeple from St. Mary’s Catholic Church going to be resting in the church’s parking lot?

And why will there be a 20-by-20-by-16 foot box on the tower where the steeple once stood?

The answer – blame it on the rain.

Lots and lots of rain.

St. Mary’s Church requires major repairs to its steeple because leaking rainwater has caused damage and threatens to cause more damage.

The estimated cost of the work is $385,000.

“We did not choose this,” Father Philip Waibel, pastor of St. Mary’s, said.

“This is something that was given to us and we have to fix it or the problems will simply be magnified and will cost us more,” he added.

He said the problem with the steeple was first discovered last year during Oktoberfest when a wet spot was discovered in the ornate painting in the ceiling of the church. The spot grew until plaster fell.

Realizing something had to be done, Waibel said, Schommer and Sons were chosen to do the inspection because they have experience in this “unique kind of problem.”

Schommer & Sons hope to have the work completed by Oktoberfest and before the rains set in again, Waibel added.

Among the problems are dry rot in heavy timbers in the tower, decay and cracks in masonry and missing bricks at the top of the tower.

There also are leaks in the copper cladding on the steeple and cracks and splitting in the copper on the roof of the tower.

At one point in the inspection, the contractors were able to stick a ballpoint pen four inches into the dry rot in the wood in the structural framing.

“They have done work on churches and steeples and they are the only people who specialize in this kind of thing,” Waibel said.

According to Schommer and Sons’ report following an inspection done in February there are six major problem areas in the steeple, the tower and the small steeple at the east side of the church.

They include failing metal joints, water intrusion, missing bricks and corbel at the stone ledge; dry rot in wood timbers; steeple’s framing shifted and unknown damage due to water.

The engineering firm of Conlee Engineering, Inc. did an independent inspection and concurred with Schommer and Sons on the dry rot in the framing timers.

Schommer and Sons will make repairs including replacing old copper on the steeple with new; removing dry rot and installing plywood and repair existing masonry, corbel and caulking above the clock tower.

Similar work will be done on the small steeple on the east side of the church.

By the first week in June, two crews will be at work on the repairs one on the steeple in the parking lot and one crew above in the tower.

The box on top of the tower will serve as a work station for the crew there with all of their material and tools inside.

Waibel explained the parish owns the church and cannot rely on other sources to pay for the work.

“Financially, we have the ability to get the project started, but we have to raise the funds to finish it,” he said.

“And we can’t delay it anymore or we risk greater damage when the rainy season is on us and more water comes in through the cracks. We have to bite the bullet.”

Waibel said he has faith that the people of the parish will come forth and provide what is needed.

“I have found the people here are very supportive of their church. They love their church and cherish its heritage,” he said. “We will soon celebrate the 100th anniversary of the construction of the cathedral by our forefathers.”

He said it is for this generation to give it over to the next.

“To repair this is a gift to our children and our grandchildren so that they have the same beautiful church we have had,” he said.

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