Ever since last year’s flood, the sanctuary at the Schoharie Reformed Church has progressively looked worse as carpenters continued to dig deeper into the historic building’s damage.
But following a year studying the 168-year-old structure, the first step of a multi-phase reconstruction project has begun, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, said.
Built on Main Street in 1884, the church building serves as a house of worship for a congregation established about 291 years ago when early residents built the Old Stone Fort. The fort now serves as a museum owned by Schoharie County.
Many in the church’s leadership, and its congregation, spearheaded flood relief efforts, and they continue that work throughout the Schoharie Valley. Despite the damage it sustained from high water, the historic church hosted services only two weeks after the flood.
The first formal worship services were held outside in the direct aftermath of the disaster.
It’s unclear how much structural damage resulted from last year’s flood or the several floods that came before it, Meyer-Veen said.
The first step in restoration entails shoring up structural supports for the front of the building that faces Main Street.
The weight of the church’s organ — and the removal of portions of support beams to install it at the turn of the 19th century — appear to be causing a slow sag. Meyer-Veen said the structural support work will require affixing steel cables extending from the upper levels of the church building to concrete footings to be built in the basement.
The opposite section of the building — expected to be the focus of future work — is also bowing.
When the first layer of flooring in the sanctuary was removed not long after the flood, carpenters realized moisture and mold damage was more extensive than initially thought, so another layer of flooring was removed. The ongoing work has resulted in the pews being re-arranged several times during the past year. Planks and plywood dot various sections of the floor on the first level.
“It’s just been a shuffling every Sunday,” Meyer-Veen said.
The church building’s condition has taken its toll on some members of the congregation — it’s seen by some as a weekly reminder of the painful flood more than a year ago. Others are unable to attend services in the church’s condition, said Paul Schultz, vice president of the consistory, the church’s governing body.
“We have some of our members that haven’t been attending for the past year,” Schultz said.
Some senior citizens can’t walk on the uneven flooring, while others have allergy problems made worse by continued construction, demolition and mold.
“It hasn’t been a place for people that have more special needs. That’s another reason why we really need to get moving on it, so we are,” Schultz said.
A church visioning team has begun meeting to discuss what can be done in continued phases.
The entire fellowship hall in the basement, which once held as many as 150 people for functions, has been shut down since it was filled with floodwater. A full kitchen in the fellowship hall was also destroyed in the flood.
A new heating system to replace the one installed two weeks prior to last year’s flood now sits on the first floor, instead of in the basement.
The balcony area above the sanctuary also needs updating so those with difficulty negotiating the spiral staircase can join the church choir.
If work stabilizing the building goes as planned, work on a new floor in the sanctuary could begin not long after February.
“It looks like by February, what we hope to present to the congregation is a plan for starting work in the sanctuary and the first thing is to get the floor level and safe again,” Schultz said.
Despite more than a century of wear and structural issues, there’s been little talk about rebuilding, Meyer-Veen said.
“In this congregation, and I think this community, I think the vast majority would never consider that,” she said.