Logans Ferry Presbyterian Church tackles major renovation

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

The congregation at Logans Ferry Presbyterian Church was oblivious to three decades' worth of rainfall that had seeped into the New Kensington sanctuary's trusses and rotted its interior structure.

But parishioners became immediately aware last spring when the building's west wall warped more than 2 inches in less than a day of heavy rains.

“The wall was waving in the wind,” said Lois Bakewell, a church repair and restoration committee member. “The truss at that end had rotted and collapsed, so the ceiling and the wall were no longer connected.”

The leaks sprang from what church officials say was an improper roof installation done more than 30 years ago.

It has prompted a $333,000 renovation, according to Massaro Corp. superintendent Dave Satler. The Pittsburgh-based general contractor was commissioned last year by Logans Ferry for the complete restoration.

Aside from replacing the shingle roof and stabilizing the trusses with reinforced steel, Massaro is refurbishing the church's lighting, repainting and patching the walls, staining the ceiling and rewiring the lighting in the church's sanctuary.

“The wiring is so old and I don't think it would have passed code,” Bakewell said. “Whenever I heard the fire whistle in town, I used to pray that it wasn't the church burning down.

“The leaks from the roof didn't help, either.”

According to Satler, the ceramic tile roof that was in place was structurally unsound, allowed leaks and created a situation in which total building collapse was “very possible.” The Massaro superintendent said the full roof replacement consumes the majority of the $333,000 budget.

It's fallen to the church's 125-member congregation to foot the bill, Bakewell said.

“It's a lot of money, and the work and time put into fundraising has taken a toll,” she said. “But we're not giving up on it. It's something that's important to all of us.”

The church's fundraisers this year included food drives, raffles, dinners, T-shirt sales and car washes.

Despite the sustained efforts, the congregation fell short of its goal and was forced to mortgage the church building for $177,000, according to Tom Ferguson, head of property and grounds at the 133-year-old church.

“We raised as much as we could,” he said. “We tested as many avenues as possible to receive grants and donations. But ultimately, we had to borrow the money and hope that future fundraisers are successful enough for us to pay off the bills.”

The group's next planned fundraiser is an Aug. 17 car wash at the AutoZone on Tarentum Bridge Road in New Kensington.

For the Rev. Robert Henry, who has led the Logans Ferry congregation for 11 years, it's “inspiring to know there's such a strong sense of unity and support for the church within its members.”

During the sanctuary renovation, the pastor's been conducting worship services in the building's fellowship hall, situated in the church's half that faces the parking lot along Second Street. The attached sanctuary faces in the opposite direction, toward Church Street.

It's the third time Henry's been forced to preach in the hall to a cramped crowd of parishioners in folding chairs. The sanctuary's been renovated twice before during his tenure, though never as extensively.

The pastor considers the current restoration work to be the first phase of a total renovation that will make each entrance and the below-ground dining hall wheelchair-accessible.

With three-quarters of the congregation of retirement age, Henry said the construction plans were made out of necessity and will begin once the church raises sufficient money.

Logans Ferry provides an annual $265,000 worth of services to the public through almost a dozen community outreach programs, according to Henry. The pastor said the building's upkeep is imperative in continuing to perform the philanthropic work in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

“It's the people, not the building, that make the church,” he said. “But we still need somewhere to gather and operate out of.”

Church committee members anticipate the renovation to conclude by Labor Day or shortly after.

The New Kensington parish will host a re-dedication ceremony in the sanctuary on Sept. 29 to celebrate the end of a laborious, but necessary, process.

The ceremony will feature a worship service, followed by a meal in the dining hall.

“It's hard to even describe the privilege,” Henry said. “As a pastor, you're blessed to have a dedication ceremony. To have two is something that's pretty special.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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