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O'Hara water line break damages church

Tawnya Panizzi
| Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

What was believed to be a minor waterline break at St. Joseph Parish has turned into extensive work at the Dorseyville Road church.

That means parishioners will celebrate Mass in the adjoining social hall for at least another four to six weeks.

"You'd never know it was a church," said the Rev. Thom Miller, pastor. "It looks like a box. It's totally gutted."

A Jan. 18 waterline break that occurred in the ceiling originally was expected to close the site for about two weeks while crews cleaned the front pews, altar and carpet.

But contractors encountered a much bigger obstacle during the restoration -- asbestos.

It lines the ceiling and lies beneath the tile floor, Miller said, and can pose a substantial hazard once it gets wet and starts to flake.

Church officials were faced with the option of abating the asbestos in the entire church or only in the front portion of the church, where the water originally did the most damage.

Miller said they decided to err on the side of safety.

Because the waterline stretched the length of the church, water seeped throughout the entire ceiling. It also dropped a significant amount of moisture on the front flooring near the sanctuary.

Church leaders agreed that everything should come out.

"The pews are all gone," Miller said.

"If you look up, all you see is wires."

Cost estimates were not yet available, Miller said.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh hired local company FireDex to complete the work.

For now, Mass is being celebrated in the church social hall, which suffered no damage when the waterline broke.

Services remain at 4 p.m. Saturdays and 9 and 11 a.m. Sundays.

Miller expects that will be the case for as many as six more weeks.

Parishioners, he said, are showing a sense of humor during their hardship.

"One little girl said it's so packed in there that it's just like Christmas Mass every week."

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer with The Herald in Aspinwall.

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