Water damage means extensive renovations for church

Feb 26, 2018

The roof of Rochester's First Congregational Church is facing collapse unless extensive water damage can be repaired, said the church's pastor, Robert Ripley.

The most damage, Ripley said, is caused by water entering the church's bell tower and the four small spires at each corner. "I went up there, and it's no place you'd really want to go," Ripley joked, "but I shone a flashlight inside and it was like I'd turned a faucet on. Water was just pouring down the sides and back to the outside."

Investigating the carpet of one of the aisles of the church's sanctuary building, he pointed out a few small specks of plaster visible on the red carpet. "That's not bad. Usually there are a lot of pieces around," he said. On the ceiling above him, plaster had peeled away in wide strips.

Most of the wood inside the bell tower and spires is rotten almost to the point of nonexistence, Ripley said. The roof is also rotted; the church's historic bell, removed in 2015, can't be returned to the bell tower even after repairs, as the roof can't support the bell's weight any longer.

"The guys from Fisher and Rocha came in, did an analysis, and basically told us that the roof was headed for a collapse," Ripley said. "Which of course, is never what you want to hear, but a lot of those boards are original to 1837. They can't last forever."

The bell tower's wooden boards will be replaced with concrete boards topped with a PVC-plastic, meant to look like wood.

The cost of bell tower repairs, combined with repairing the four spires, the roof and the interior of the church sanctuary, will likely run the church about $250,000.

"We can either tear it down or we can repair the building, and I know which option most people would prefer," Ripley said.

Right now, Fisher and Rocha Construction, based in Mattapoisett, is finishing up the first part of the renovations; the bell tower. Within the next week or two, contractors will begin work on the next phase, repairing the four corner spires.

Then, Ripley estimates, there will be a bit of a break before construction begins on the final phase; interior renovations. Scaffolding will be erected inside the church sanctuary, which means that the entire sanctuary will need to be vacated for the length of renovation. The only thing that will remain is the church's ornate chandelier—dating from the 1930s—which will be wrapped and preserved as construction goes on around it. Fisher and Rocha workers cited the chandelier's delicacy, and that moving it would almost certainly cause extensive damage.

All in all, Ripley doesn't expect the renovations to be entirely done until 2020.

The church is using a GoFundMe page to solicit donations from those looking to help. The church's GoFundMe is located at www.gofundme.com/6g9693-historic-church-restoration.

The Congregational Church will also be hosting a Roast Pork Dinner on March 10; all funds will go directly to the church's restoration. Tickets are $12 per person or $6 per child; to register for the dinner, call the church's office at 508-763-4314.