Schoharie Reformed Church back from irene
By Jim Poole
The Schoharie Reformed Church is all the way back from Hurricane Irene.
And the Main Street church is also all the way back from a multitude of structural problems revealed by the 2011 flooding.
The congregation celebrated their church’s recovery with a two-day rededication over the weekend complete with a special worship service, an organ recital and tours to show the finished work.
It was such a project––massive repairs from the foundation to the belfry––that it deserved a two-day celebration.
“Everyone is very proud of the work they’ve accomplished,” said Pastor Sherri Meyer-Veen.
Like most buildings in Schoharie, the Reformed Church suffered flooding on August 28, 2011. Water filled the fellowship room in the basement and reached the bottom of the pews upstairs.
But while the flood was damaging, early recovery and clean-up in 2011 exposed more serious problems.
“In a way, the flood was a good thing,” said Dave Toborg, who chaired the buildings and grounds committee then and still holds the position.
“It uncovered a lot of elements that caused us to say, ‘Look at that.’ The flood forced our hand.”
Many of the problems developed over time or stemmed from additions and modifications that weren’t made to last.
“It really suffered from 170 years of deferred maintenance and bad decisions,” Mr. Toborg said of the 1844 church.
He and fellow church member Jim Meinsma made more thorough investigations, finding that cracks in the wall were widening, the floor was sinking, joists were barely supported and the balcony “didn’t inspire confidence,” Mr. Toborg said.
“Jim is super sharp, clever,” he added. “One of his loves is old buildings and architecture, and he took the lead on this.”
They also brought in Clemens McGiver of McGiver Construction Services in Cobleskill, an expert on old buildings.
One of the worst issues was the belfry. There was much rot, and the deck was fashioned in such a way that water just sat on it until evaporating.
At the same time, two horizontal beams supporting the belfry were leaning into building. The entire structure held the 2,000-pound bell.
“The whole thing was spongy,” Mr. Toborg said. “At some point, the deck in the belfry was going to fail.”
The belfry was only one problem. Others––not all––included:
•The large stone slabs for the front steps were leaning into the building, allowing water to run into the foundation.
•Much of the church, including the floor, was shifting to the east or back of the church.
•The balcony where the organ sits wasn’t supported properly.
•The front wall bulged inward slightly, and the back wall bulged outward significantly.
•While the back wall was tipping outward, the bricks at the top were tipping in.
“Clemens came up with a real clever solution on the back wall,” Mr. Toborg said. “Two steel vertical beams, with cement against the brick, are holding it in place. It’s not going anywhere any more.”
The major work took five years to complete, though one job remains: Re-installing the pews, which was to be done Monday.
Money for the project came from a variety of sources. Pastor Meyer-Veen said the total cost was $1.25 million, with donations coming from sister churches across the country.
Grants of $40,000 from the Synod and $50,000 from National Grid also helped, she said.
Pastor Meyer-Veen estimated that $500,000 came from the congregation itself.
“And you have to remember that 30 percent of them had to rebuild their own homes after Irene, and another 30 percent had to help friends or family members rebuild,” she said.
“We had help from all over.”