Marsha Chartrand

Emanuel Church Steeple to be Replaced

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Workers prepare to remove the historic steeple from the Emanuel Church.

After four years of preparation, an historic moment will happen at Emanuel United Church of Christ on Wednesday, June 4.

The 151-year-old towering white steeple atop Manchester’s largest church building, which can be seen from various vantage points surrounding the village, will be removed for structural repairs and a traditional makeover.

Keith Clark, who has been heading up the project with John Hinkley, said, “It was a big project to start with but as it evolved, has become an even larger project than we anticipated.”

Four years ago, some aluminum siding was lost from the steeple in a severe storm. At that time, contractors from R.D. Kleinschmidt came to make the repairs and discovered that some of the sheeting was rotted beneath the siding.

“Our first step was to get it cleaned up,” Clark recalls. “It was a mess up there—the screens in the bell tower were not tight and we had pigeons, birds, and bats in the belfry. So of course we had to clean that out.”

A structural engineer was called in to assess the situation, but because there was only an old, rather rickety ladder reaching into the tower, the engineer couldn’t fully estimate the necessary work. The property committee, consisting of Clark, Hinkley, Lew Major, Dave Wenk, Todd Rinehart, Monty Okey, Jim Mann, and Pastor Marcia Meabon, decided to build some interior access platforms and also put electricity in the steeple so the engineer could make an accurate assessment of the 158-foot steeple’s condition.

A small amount of water damage was noted at that time, but it was when the committee started the year-long process of interviewing steeple contractors and looking at bids that they discovered the extent of the damage.

“We settled on American Steeplejacks out of Strongsville, Ohio, and they gave us a good price,” Clark said. “We thought we’d just have to replace a few rotted boards and we had decided to re-shingle the steeple to restore it to its original design—a colored band in the middle of the steeple and more ornate dentils than we could have with the current siding.”

However, once the contractors started tearing off the sheeting, they discovered that the water damage was far more extensive than originally thought. Some of the largest support beams were severely rotted, creating a structural flaw. “We realized then that it was more than a patch job,” Clark said. “The whole steeple depends on this foundation.”

So plans were revised once more and approvals were given by the congregation to go forward with the $260,000 project. In order to properly replace the structural foundation, the steeple itself will be removed from the bell tower and carefully placed in the courtyard in front of the church while the base is rebuilt. The new sheathing will be put on the spire itself and then lifted back up and returned to its rightful spot before the shingles are replaced. A new finial on the top, a replica of the original, will also be placed on the steeple as part of the restoration project, which is being done with an eye to the future.

“We’ve got a good contractor,” Clark added. “This is his niche and we feel confident with his advice on what we will have to do to get our steeple back to its original condition. We believe that by using durable, resilient materials, this will be a maintenance free project and it won’t need replacement for a long time to come.”

Although he’s never been involved in a construction project of this magnitude, Clark is excited to be part of this once in a lifetime event in Manchester. “It’s not often that something like this is done,” he said. “After all, it’s been up there for more than 150 years so this is a piece of history — something that the village and congregation will be seeing for another 100 to 150 years.”

The project is expected to be completed in mid-July.

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The 151-year old steeple is suffering from rotted support beams.

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