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Woman wants to move church of her baptism

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 3:42 p.m.

Teresa Stoughton Marafino was baptized and confirmed in the former Trinity United Church of Christ along Route 30 in Jennerstown.

But she says significance - not sentiment - has sparked her efforts to save the century-old sanctuary in Somerset County from the wrecking ball.

'It's the idea of losing this historic building ... that's my driving force,' Marafino said of her wish to preserve the 1,776-square-foot church that sits just east of the highway's intersection with Route 985.

'This is the only significant building in Jennerstown that dates to 1901,' she said, citing the date engraved in the building's cornerstone. 'Its loss would be most unfortunate.'

But unless she is successful in her plan to have the large, one-room structure (with steeple) relocated, it will be demolished later this year to make way for a playground and a parking lot.

Marafino, who owns the nearby Green Gables Restaurant and Mountain Playhouse, explained that the church had stood virtually vacant since its members merged with church congregations from Edie and Boswell and the Beam Church in Gray to become the Mt. Laurel United Church of Christ in 1970.

The now defunct Jennerstown Grange subsequently owned the building until last year, when state grange officials ordered it sold at auction, she said.

Marafino bid on the sale after having the building appraised at $25,000, she said. 'And I actually went as high as $31,000.'

Nonetheless, she was outbid at $32,000 by the Jennerstown United Methodist Church, which is located two doors down to the west.

Somerset attorney George Kaufman, who represented the Methodist church in the property purchase, said its new owners had planned to raze the building to make room for additional parking on the 0.2-acre plot. They also plan a playground for the church's day care center, which is housed within the next-door Jennerstown United Methodist Community Center.

'They are not interested in the building,' Kaufman affirmed. 'Just the ground.'

Marafino has asked officials with the Methodist church for a stay of demolition until she can finalize a plan to move the structure to a new site, where it can be restored, she said. 'And they have given me until June.'

Kaufman confirmed that 'an effort is being made to work with (Marafino),' but also noted church officials 'do have a time frame in which they would like to get things done.'

June, he said, 'sounds in the ballpark.'

'At this point, everyone is trying to work together,' Kaufman added. 'I think this is a potential win-win situation and we wish (Marafino) the best. We really do.'

Marafino had initially hoped to preserve the church building where it stands, but that no longer seems a viable option, she admitted. She now hopes to have it transported to an as yet undetermined site, where she envisions it serving as a multi-use building that could house rehearsal space for the playhouse.

'When not in use by the theater, it would be open for community meetings and other events,' she said. 'It would be a used building once again.'

But first, its scalloped slate roof shingles must be replaced, and some interior water damage caused by the leaky top will need to be repaired as well, Marafino said.

'It has several cosmetic issues, but I've had three building inspectors in and they've all told me that the structure is sound,' she said. She has 'talked with' a company that could move the structure, but has not yet obtained a commitment on the project.

'I have also come up with six or seven possible sites for the building that I am still researching,' Marafino said. 'I would love to take it to the Mountain Playhouse grounds, which is located about a half-mile north of Route 30 along Route 985. But that's pretty far and we would have to take it up a pretty narrow road.'

She said she would like to keep the new location along Route 30.

'One reason is that it's wide enough, and the other is that it would keep all of the tourism aspects,' Marafino said, noting she would also like to see the church's entrance areas become visitor information centers for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.

She is a board member of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor - a non-profit group that supports preservation of the historic national highway and its landmarks - and the group is 'supportive' of her plan, she said. 'But this is my individual project.'

So now Marafino's turning to the community for input, asking anyone with ideas or interest in the project to call her at Green Gables Restaurant, at (814) 629-9901.

'It's frustrating to not have a firm option right away,' she admitted. 'But I want to be thorough. And if it doesn't happen, then at least I will have tried everything that I could.'

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