Preparations to build a new parish hall at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church are under way in response to a lingering problem with mold that could no longer be ignored.
The 54-year-old hall has been torn down and construction will soon begin on the new $2.2 million facility, according to Rev. James MacDonald, rector. He said the “toxic” mold was caused by a drainage problem. The church dealt with the problem for about eight years before deciding the building had to go.
“I’ve learned different people are susceptible in different ways to mold and we’ve lost key families due to the problem,” said MacDonald. “Some who were sickened by it could smell it immediately, and others said, “What mold?’ ”
The congregation tried fixing the problem in less expensive ways — like digging a trench around the perimeter of the basement, sealing the walls and installing a sump pump. Nothing worked.
When MacDonald spoke of the expensive problem to a friend, she quoted to him a passage from Leviticus as to what must be done if a house is desecrated by mildew, mold or fungus. “A house desecrated by mildew, mold, or fungus would be a defiled place to live in, so drastic measures had to be taken.”
MacDonald said, “There are even biblical precedents of this problem, so we thought we should start anew.”
John G. Waite Associates of Albany and Manhattan was hired to build the new parish hall. They specialize in historical preservation and restoration of buildings.
Waite said the church was built off Baker Avenue near The Plaza in the mid-1940s for Protestant workers at General Electric and American Locomotive. It was designed by architect Isaac G. Perry, who was also one of the final architects to oversee construction of the state Capitol Building.
The stone for the project came from the old Schenectady Armory, but only the church was built at first because the congregation ran out of money.
Ten years later the parish hall was built, but it went up using little money and was only meant to be temporary, Waite said. A drainage system was never installed and moisture has been an issue from the start.
The new building will be modeled after the medieval European style of the church and “provide a setting for the jewel which is the church,” Waite said.
Head architect on the project Shannon Brown said the 9,000-square-foot facility will include a parish hall, classrooms, meeting rooms, a kitchen, a library, a nursery, and more bathrooms, all with energy-efficient appliances.
Some materials used will also be from local sources. The stone will be Hudson River Blue Stone, the wood for the trusses will be from the Adirondacks and the slate from Washington County.
To pay for the project the church will be fund raising and spending some of its endowment.
“It’s money spent for the future, that’s how your council sees it,” MacDonald said.
Waite added the project, “is a good statement on the part of the church. It reflects a optimism in the city and that the parish is going to grow. Not many urban churches are building facilities like that today.”
The project is expected to be finished by Thanksgiving.