Scaffolding envelops part of the 97-year-old Gothic building at 227 E. Fulton St. as workers remove bricks that are disintegrating due to water damage. Work on the $1.2 million job is scheduled to continue through September, cutting the height of the 115-foot tower by about 25 to 30 feet.
“We’ve had some stuff fall off the sides,” said Emil Jensen, the church’s facilities director. “It’s going to come down one brick at a time, or we’re going to help it out.”
The 970-member church began the project in May, opting against a $2 million restoration of the tower as it currently stands. A $600,000 alternative that would have flattened the tower to the level of the rest of the building also was rejected, Jensen said.
Instead, the church will shorten the tower, removing large windows near the top and putting in a circular rose window on the its south side. Some of the bricks, which line the building at a depth of two-and-a-half feet, will be reused to construct sides of the new, shorter roof.
View full sizeAn undated photo of First United Methodist Church, with the Masonic Temple in the background.courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Museum
The tower is ornamental architecture, and the church stopped heating it years ago to save money, Jensen said. Water settled around the glass and leaked into the brickwork over the years, he said, and the freeze-thaw process is turning the bricks into gravel.
The tower has no function today, and it’s now exposed to the sky as workers take it down.
“If you were to build a church today, would you even build something like this?” Jensen said. “That’s not who we are.
“It’s always nice to stand in front of Van Andel (Arena) and have someone say ‘Where’s your church?’ It is iconic, but our values now are more missional.”