Originally created 05/28/03

Repairs continue on old church

The building housing Union Baptist Church on Greene Street has been around for 152 years, and the Rev. William Wright would like to keep it around for years to come.

The structure, not the congregation, is in danger.

After the collapse of the former Augusta Hotel on Broad Street earlier this month, the structural stability of many old buildings has been questioned.

Engineers have said the church, which has been awaiting numerous repairs for two years, is structurally sound. Nevertheless, most of the paint on the exterior has deteriorated to expose rotted wood.

Tennent Houston, the chairman of the church's renovations committee for Historic Augusta Inc., said the old hotel's May 10 collapse did not alarm those trying to renovate the church five blocks away, but it did reinforce the need for repairs.

Since receiving a $39,000 grant from the Georgia Historic Preservation Division in 2001, the congregation has been restoring the decaying exterior of the Carpenter Gothic church.

Initially, the money went to repair the roof, but the grant covered only part of the cost. Community donations took care of the remaining amount needed, and the Rev. Wright said that work will be completed soon.

Much remains to be done, however, Mr. Houston said.

The structure's exterior must be cleaned, revamped and repainted. Needed interior repairs include renovation of the stained glass and installation of a central heating and air-conditioning unit.

Restorations will run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pending an estimate by contractors, according to Mr. Houston. However, the church will have only $10,000 in donations left from the roof construction, the Rev. Wright said.

"Until some funds can be raised, we are at a standstill," he said.

The help could be coming from the federal government. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that all nationally significant historical structures can get grants. Historically significant structures used for religious purposes had been ineligible for federal historic preservation grants.

The new policy will provide a $317,000 grant to renovate the Old North Church in Boston, where Paul Revere hung two lanterns to signal the arrival of British troops.

"The new policy will bring balance to our historic preservation program and end a discriminatory double-standard that has been applied against religious properties," Ms. Norton said in a statement.

Mr. Houston said the repairs will be tough to complete but is very confident that the most necessary repairs will be made. He added that Tuesday's announcement was a "wonderful development."

"That opens a number of logical sources of funding," he said.

After the estimate is completed, Mr. Houston said, he hopes to begin a fund-raising drive this summer and start construction by the end of the year.

All donations will be sent to Historic Augusta and dispersed to the church by the organization, he said.

Some people do not feel comfortable donating to a church, said Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta. "People might be more comfortable donating the money to Historic Augusta."

The Rev. Wright said the entire process has not hurt attendance at the church, which still holds worship services every Sunday. The church has 45 registered members, but only 25 are active.

Reports from Staff Writer Jennifer Hilliard and The Associated Press were used in this article.

Reach Jonathan Heeter at (706) 823-3224.


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