Church repairs will proceed from bottom up

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The fire-damaged Old Brick Church will be restored to its former historic glory by year’s end, a town official said.

The 175-year-old structure in Williston Village was hit by lightning in June, igniting a blaze that destroyed the cupola and damaged the roof. Though firefighters quickly doused the blaze and saved the building, there was extensive water damage.

In the past few months, the church has been dried out and cleaned up, and the town has found contractors for much of the remaining work. Insurance will cover repairs, but the total cost has yet to be tallied.

“At this point, we don’t have the bottom dollar,” said Public Works Director Neil Boyden. “We’re taking it as we go.”

The town received bids last week for repairs to the bell tower, the most expensive part of the work. Boyden said bids were solicited from contractors that were qualified to restore historic structures.

A low bid of $110,143 was submitted by Bread Loaf Corp. of Middlebury. The firm will take the building-topping cupola that housed the church’s bell and restore the structure before placing it back on the church, Boyden said.

The fire all but destroyed the cupola. The only part that could be saved was the finial, the ball topping the structure. Boyden said the finial will be restored by covering the original wood with new copper.

Repairs elsewhere will be made using modern materials that are designed to look historically correct.

The bell itself could not be saved – Boyden said it was “decapitated” when the lightning struck – so a used replacement is being sought.

New wiring and circuit breakers will be installed at an estimated cost of $11,450, Boyden said. He expects power to be restored by the end of this week.

Finally, water-damaged sheetrock and plaster will be repaired. That work has not yet been put out to bid.

Jack Price, an Old Brick Church trustee, said the repairs will proceed from the “bottom up.” The basement will be finished first, then the sanctuary and finally the cupola.

The church has been closed since the fire, affecting weddings and other events that generate revenue for the town-owned building and help defray maintenance costs.

“Since the first week of June, we’ve been out of commission for all weddings, which are our main source of revenue,” Price said.

An eclectic array of groups use the church, many of them holding meetings in the basement, he said. They include neighborhood associations, political committees and civic groups. A small church called the Christian Faith Assembly had been conducting services there each Sunday.

The church waives fees for nonprofit groups, but charges $150 for weddings. Price said the church hosts 20 to 25 weddings, most of them during the summer and fall.

Boyden declined to say when individual parts of the church will be repaired because of the uncertainties associated with contractors’ schedules. But he said all the work should be completed by the end of December.