Health of last 5 North Adams steeples seems stable, for now
NORTH ADAMS — Now that the steeple of St. Francis Church is safely down, a close look at the remaining spires of Steeple City shows that, for the most part, they seem in stable condition.
The five remaining steeples, one each on All Saints Episcopal Church, First Congregational Church and the former Notre Dame Church — and the two steeples on the First Baptist Church — still tower majestically over the downtown skyline.
It turns out the owner of each steeple is responsible for the inspection, maintenance and repair of each tower, according to Bill Meranti, North Adams building inspector.
Some observers have noted that the height of the steeples — the one on St. Francis Church was measured at 180 feet — the weight of the materials and the age of the 19th century buildings should make the structural integrity of the steeples a focus for the preservation of the skyline, of the historical structures, and for the health and safety of those nearby.
And as time goes on, the risk factors will grow unless the steeples are properly monitored and maintained.
First Congregational Church was built in 1865. St. Francis was built in 1869. Notre Dame was built in 1875.
The steeple on St. Francis was taken down last month after its deterioration led to remnants falling to the ground, requiring closing of streets and evacuation of homes and businesses nearby for several days while crews raced against time, weather and gravity to disassemble the steeple before it fell of its own accord. The rest of the building will be demolished in the coming weeks.
The church had closed in 2008, but it was still owned by the Diocese of Springfield, which now is footing the bill for its demolition.
Since the city owns the former Notre Dame Church, it is responsible for its upkeep, Meranti said.
He said the city went through the building and did some roof repairs at the time of its purchase six years ago. A portion of the brick façade at the rear of the building recently collapsed, but it was decorative, and none of the structural support of the building or the steeple is affected.
"We need to look at that and make sure it doesn't get worse," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "We're working on getting that buttoned up, and we need to do whatever we can to preserve that steeple."
He noted that the city is trying to sell the property and looking for a buyer whose plans would include preservation of the steeple.
If a building is vacant for an extended period, such as the case with St. Francis and Notre Dame, weather changes and water infiltration will become more of a problem, which can lead to compromised structural support, Meranti said.
He said nobody has inspected the St. Francis steeple itself for a number of years.
Alcombright said that the failure of the St. Francis steeple "made me a little more aware of the steeples in town, and it seems that the other church steeples are pretty stable, pretty strong.
"We're very aware of what's in front of us," Alcombright said, "and part of that is finding a use for Notre Dame. We're crafting an [request for proposals] which makes preservation of the steeple a priority of any project."
Alcombright said that although the city is not responsible for inspecting the steeples of privately owned churches, "we certainly would think that the church operations are maintaining their buildings. Nothing appears to be wrong there, at least to the naked eye."
Although city officials and local history buffs, and church officials themselves, could not say how tall the steeples are, the tallest steeple on First Baptist Church is slightly taller than the St. Francis spire was. The smaller First Baptist steeple is not quite that tall. The steeple on All Saints Episcopal Church is also shorter than 180 feet, while the steeple on the First Congregational Church is slightly taller than St. Francis was, and not quite as tall as First Baptist across the street.
The Rev. Mary Frances Curns, pastor at All Saints Episcopal Church, noted that as a result of a fire that heavily damaged the church two years ago, the repair effort included inspection and maintenance of the steeple, and this week a fire suppression system is being installed, which included extensive work inside the steeple.
"We really try hard to keep things in good repair so it doesn't return on us in later years," Curns said.
She said the church is in the process of setting up a fund to be sure resources are there to handle any maintenance and repair needs.
The Rev. Dave Anderson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of North Adams, said the bigger steeple was renovated and repaired 15 years ago, in a process that took about 10 months.
"We installed all new slate on the outside and all new structural elements inside," Anderson said. "We were noticing a little wear and tear, so we had an engineer come in. Now, we're in pretty good shape."
He said the church has a regular maintenance plan for the whole structure.
The Rev. Carolyn Peck of the First Congregational Church declined to comment on the church maintenance of the steeple or its current structural status.
Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.
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