Originally created 01/19/98

Work begins at Most Holy Trinity



It took about 2 1/2 days to fill the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity on Telfair Street with a wall-to-wall forest of scaffolding.

The scaffolding rises from the recently exposed marble flooring to the nearly 70-foot-high ceiling.

Ron Gruenke and Bob Pettis, foremen on the church's interior restoration project, spend their days hidden from visitors in a kind of mega-treehouse of steel, planks and plastic sheeting.

"We are going as much as we can back to the original in color tones, stenciling, decoration," said Mr. Gruenke, of Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wis.

In about four months, when the Schmitt company and R.W. Allen and Associates of Augusta leave the church, which is still being used for Sunday services, Holy Trinity will have a more historically authentic interior, a new sacristy, an expanded choir loft, and a new sound and lighting system.

The cost of the restoration and renovation will be about $1 million, said the Rev. Allan McDonald, pastor of the church.

The existing church was begun in 1857 and completed in 1863. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mr. Gruenke is working from a watercolor sketch based on a photograph of the church's interior. A black-and-white picture showing some of the early stenciling was published in a book in 1894.

The original church had sandstone-colored walls, said the Rev. McDonald. The walls are currently green.

The refurbished church will be in ivories and grays with accents of red and gold though it will be a couple of weeks before the final colors are chosen.

No paint chips were taken to determine the color, said Mr. Gruenke. Holy Trinity, like a lot of other Southern churches, had paint made of calcimine, an earth-and-water mixture.

When later painters worked, they should have washed the calcimine off before they started, he said. They didn't, and that caused the new paint to blister and show fine cracks. "Most Southern churches we find have this problem," he said.

He and Mr. Pettis are using polymer and a fiberglass membrane to rebuild the walls.

Holy Trinity is the only church Mr. Gruenke has seen with decorative cast iron columns, he said. Most iron columns are either fluted or round.

Work began on the sacristy shortly after stained-glass windows were removed from the sanctuary the end of June. The old sacristy behind the altar was torn down to make room for the new one, which is where the priests put on their vestments. It wasn't protected by the historical register since it was added about a hundred years after the existing church was built.

In the choir loft, Holy Trinity's pipe organ is swathed in plastic sheeting. For the next few months, John Cargile, director of music, will be playing in front of the altar on an organ brought from Atlanta.

Removing the carpeting already has had a big impact on the organ's sound, he said. "This is the best place in town now. The acoustics are great."

The church is closed during the week while the men work. Weekday masses have moved to the fellowship hall. On weekends, however, the church is squared away for parish masses.

Weddings are backlogged until May 9. A choir member's daughter booked that date for her wedding, said Mr. Cargile. "She said it wouldn't bother her if a little scaffolding is still up."