Episcopal church makes renovations
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on January 2, 2012 1:46 PM
Steve Beightol puts mortar into the spaces between the bricks of the bell tower Thursday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. He and two other men have been repairing the mortar in the church. This is the first time since 1856, when the church was built, that the mortar is being redone.
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on North James Street has boasted a dedicated group of church members since before its building first hosted services before the Civil War.
In its nearly 160-year history, its visitors and the neighborhood around it have changed quite a bit, but never had a congregation had such an impact on the church until a group of termites decided to move in.
The insects had completely destroyed one of the church's iconic wooden roof beams and was working on another when the damage was discovered two years ago.
After that, the church's human congregation determined it was time for some serious renovations, but didn't stop just at repairing the broken beams. By the time the restoration work is done on the church, it will be cleaned up and ready to endure another 160 years of use.
But first things first -- the roof needed major work.
Paul Jeffries, executive vice president at D.S. Simmons and the project manager for the church renovations project, said the extensive damage required an equally complex repair.
"We had to go in, remove the roof in that area, and install a temporary roof structure that we could get into and replace that one beam that ran continuous from the ridge to the wall. Then, we returned the roof to its original condition," he said.
Work on old plaster that had been damaged by water was done and the church's stained glass windows were cleaned as well. Leaks were fixed in the rubber roof and the flat roof systems were replaced on the buildings on the east portion of the property which were built in the 1970s.
The church's senior warden, David Jackson, said his company, Jackson and Sons Heating and Air Conditioning, had already finished its work on the heating, vacuum and air conditioning systems, which in some cases were more than 20 years old.
Jackson, who is also the chairman of the church's renovation committee, said replacement of the single-paned windows in the areas of the facility built since 1900 would help contribute to the consistency of the house of worship, as well as to lower heating and cooling costs
"We want to make them look more like windows in a worship building as opposed to in an office building," he said, noting that the more decorative windows, and much of the renovation, were vetted by the city's historical commission. "We would prefer it to look more like a religious institution than a bank building."
But the current phase of restoration has required the involvement of a specialized sub-contractor as a Gastonia-based company had to be called in to perform maintenance on the antique masonry of the building.
"The original brick had gone south," Jeffries explained. "It was covered with ivy and the ivy just pulled the lime out of the mortar. It was like sand. All of the pre-1900 masonry is being restored."
The mortar is being removed and replaced in the masonry, he said.
The next step, Jackson said, will be the preservation of the stained glass windows. After removing the protective Plexiglass that has become opaque, the windows will be cleaned and the protective glass will be replaced with a newer material that allows for more light to pass through while protecting the windows for many more years.
Jackson said the congregation is excited about the project, and said the fundraising has gone very well, especially considering why the repairs were begun.
"This whole renovation project stemmed from a termite renovation after years and years of neglect so the sanctuary is very happy that we are addressing these issues," he said. "We want it to be here another 150 years."