Monday September 3, 2012

LEE - The First Congre gational Church is brightly shining, thanks to a $150,000 paint job, including the iconic steeple that was repaired three years ago.

Except for the bell and clock towers, the 155-year-old historic structure behind Town Hall has a new bright white exterior, last painted nearly 20 years ago, according to church officials.

Weather permitting, the church’s Historic Preser vation Committee expects the nearly six-month project to wrap up by the end of the month.

The committee has scheduled a celebratory community open house on Sept. 29 at the church, in part to acknowledge the more than 400 individuals, civic groups and businesses who donated to the project. The open house is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

"We literally had people from all over the country donate," said committee member Ellen Krupka. "People who used to live here, or tourists who had visited our church."

"I had a fellow from Great Barrington donate because his grandparents were married d in the church," added committee chairman Garth Story.

The church also staged the musical "Grease" and other special events to help fund the project.

Story noted that another $6,000 is needed to reach the $150,000 goal.

Church officials say the capital campaign started in late March with $30,000 in the bank -- $20,000 remaining from a previous fundraising effort of five years ago, and $10,000 from the sale of church property on Orchard Street.


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The money raised was also used to complete repairs to the bell tower section of the highly visible steeple that was refurbished three years ago at a cost of $150,000. The unexpected steeple work was necessary to save the spire, which is considered the town’s unofficial logo and a beacon for motorists as they depart Exit 2 off the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Moore’s Steeple People, the Chicopee firm that restored the steeple in 2009, is currently painting the bell and clock towers. Iemolini & Sons Painting of Stockbridge has already repainted the rest of the church.

Church pastor, the Rev. Bill Neil, had high praise for the contractors’ work, and for the willingness of the 120-member congregation to raise $150,000 in a six-month period.

"There was such a desire for the project once we had a practical price to do the project," Neil said. "It was pent-up enthusiasm unleashed."

Aside from being the town’s most recognizable -- and photographed -- landmark, the First Congregational Church is heavily involved in the community.

Church officials cited 10 non-church groups who regularly meet in the parish hall, where weekly Wednesday community suppers also take place from September to June. The church also stages concerts and provides the land that is used for the town park adjacent to Town Hall on Main Street.

The church also has been integral to the revitalization of downtown Lee, playing a key role in the new municipal parking lot being built last year behind church property.

"The church is within the downtown historic district, which I consider part of Lee’s economic development," said Richard Vinette, former executive director of the Lee Community Development Corp.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.