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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 25, 2010

Historic Rensselaerville church may have new steeple by year’s end

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — The town’s historic Presbyterian Church has received two grants for a new steeple, as its current one is in need of repair, and the recent Seven to Save designation from the state may help cover the rest of the price.

“The whole project, including the final design and bid document preparation and everything, should cost about $261,000,” Gayle Burgess told The Enterprise this week. Burgess chairs the church’s financial committee, and is a member of its session. “The inner workings of the steeple have deteriorated, and there are four major members that support the cradle, and two of the four have rotted.” This deterioration was discovered last spring, as plans were being made to paint the steeple.

More than 150 years old, the church, in addition to serving as a place of worship, is also a venue where groups like the Village Voices periodically give musical performances.

Kenneth Storms, vice president of the Rensselaerville Historical Society, said that the importance of this building extends far beyond the hamlet’s historic district.

“The building is so architecturally important and nationally recognized for its design, it makes it beyond whatever value it might have to the congregation,” Storms said. “It has a more intrinsic value to the community at large, and to people who are interested in that style of architecture.”

The two grants received came from the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The first, a $5,000 Sacred Sites grant, was spent on an assessment of the steeple’s deterioration and determining a cost for construction; the second, a $35,000 Robert E. Wilson Sacred Sites Grant, is to go towards the actual construction.

“There were two qualifications for the Robert E. Wilson grant,” Burgess said. “One was that we matched 100 percent of the money; second was that we actually bring the project to construction within a year.” The grant was awarded this past October.

The $5,000 grant was matched by donations from the congregation and friends of congregants, as was part of the $35,000 grant; the rest was matched by a $20,000 donation from the W.P. Carey Foundation, and $2,000 from the Daniel V. McNamee Jr. Memorial Fund. The church received a total $39,600 in its efforts to match the grant, Burgess said.

The historic hamlet of Rensselaerville was chosen by the Preservation League of New York State as one of this year’s Seven to Save, meaning greater chances of bringing in grant money to preserve Rensselaerville’s historic buildings, and possibly working to increase heritage tourism as an economic jumpstart.

“The Seven to Save designation has given us some lead on other grants we’re looking for,” Burgess said this week. The church has applied for a $150,000 grant, which falls under the New York State Environmental Protection Fund. A $10,000 grant has also been applied for through the William and Mary Barnet Foundation, a supporting organization of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region.

Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, and Baker — the architectural firm hired for the assessment — estimated that the steeple construction would cost about $226,467, though this does not include costs for design, contract administration, or the oversight of construction. The firm provided the church with a 20-plus-page booklet, containing a full description of its assessment of the structure.

“Generally, the condition of the steeple framing is excellent, with some significant exceptions,” reads the assessment.

It goes on to say that the steeple’s upper partners “exhibit extensive rotting in the south and east beams,” that “the deterioration appears to be the result of water infiltration, probably entering from the lantern roof, and may have occurred in the distant past, perhaps even prior to the installation of the metal roof over the lantern in the 1930s,” and that these beams are “a significant structural concern.” Several components of the lantern framing are also extensively rotted and have “no remaining structural capacity.”

Further, the assessment found that the spire — a cone shaped piece that sits atop the steeple — is structurally deformed, its upper portion leaning east, and there is a three-quarter-inch gap between sheathing boards on the western side.

Jan Bishop, president of the Rensselaerville Historic District Association, told The Enterprise last month that, if the town does receive grant money through the Seven to Save designation, the steeple of the Presbyterian Church will be the historic district association’s first priority as far as structural repairs are concerned.

With the receipt of the Robert E. Wilson grant in October, the church has eight months to begin building its new steeple, unless the recent bid for an environmental protection grant is successful.

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