STANDISH — After several years of deliberation, the board of trustees at the Old Red Church in Standish has decided to remove part of the historic building.
Trustees say that the church’s “ell,” also known as the “coal room,” an addition built around 1890 to the back of the building, is causing damage to the original structure. They explored ways to improve the ell, but instead have settled on a plan to remove it.
“None of us want to tear it off … (but) it’s just destroying the church,” said Eleanor Dudek, president of the Board of Trustees.
Rain sheets off the ell and onto the back of the church, damaging windows, sheathing and sills on the main building, she said.
“This isn’t new, this is an ongoing problem,” Dudek said.
According to an estimate that was provided to the town manager, the total cost of the repair project is just under $75,000. Of that total, an estimated $8,140 is for the ell removal. The trustees expect to have the funds to cover the cost.
The church was built in 1804 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with being a house of worship, it has housed various other organizations over the years, including Standish Academy, the Grange, the Unity Club and Standish High School.
Trustee George McNeil provided a written overview of the repair plans and decision-making time line.
“This is an effort that began more than three years ago, when the Trustees partnered with Arron Sturgis and Preservation Timber Framing to shore up the foundation to the ell (also known as the Coal Room) at the back of the church,” McNeil said in his overview. “As PTF assessed the ell, it became clear that problems were far in excess of the foundation … It became clear that we needed to shift our focus to the repair and integrity of the original church structure.”
McNeil continues to say that Sturgis and his colleagues surveyed the damage and provided repair estimates for two separate scenarios – removal of the ell with restoration of the back of the church, or restoration of both the ell and main church structure.
“Willing to do either, Arron strongly urged the trustees to remove the ell. He argued that preserving it would perpetuate the conditions that caused such damage to the core church structure, and that the next generation of church trustees would be facing the same problem,” McNeil continued.
As a result, and after “extensive debate” over the course of two years, McNeil said that “the consensus of the Old Red Church trustees has evolved to a reluctant acceptance of Arron’s recommendation that the ell be removed.”
Dudek acknowledged that there was not unanimity in support of the ell removal plan, which McNeil said is slated to begin this month and appears to be somewhat underway based on a recent visit to the church.
“I think there were one or two people who opposed,” Dudek said.
“They seemed a lot more at peace with it once they heard our explanation,” Dudek added, calling the whole process a “four-year saga.”
Dudek said one of the concerns had been that the ell is currently used by the Standish Historical Society. She said, however, that the space is inaccessible in the winter for most historical society members because there is no heat no running water, no insulation and poor stair conditions.
Glenna Jamison, the president of the historical society and also a church trustee, said that she has “very mixed feelings” about the plan to remove the ell.
She said that while she doesn’t want the ell to be torn off, the trustees have decided it’s the best way to preserve the church.
“Its a really difficult decision, but I think we have made the best decision that we could,” Jamison said.
The historical society was already running out of space and looking for a new building with space on the ground floor that is handicap accessible.
She said the society has launched a fundraising effort and hopes to raise $150,000 towards the new space.
“We’ve been doing it for at least a year now,” Jamison said, declining to give an exact amount raised but noting that “we’re a long ways from $150,000.”
Standish Town Manager Gordy Billington said that while the church building is actually owned by the town, the church’s maintenance and upkeep is controlled by the board of trustees.
Billington said in a voicemail that the trustees came before the council earlier this year to make a presentation about the repair plan. It was a very good presentation, he said, and the council agreed with what they planned to do.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
The ell that was added around 1890 has been causing damage to the original structure.
The Old Red Church in Standish will continue to look the same from the front, but the addition on the other side of the building will be removed.