City church to hold celebration tonight

A ceremony will be held tonight to celebrate the completion of a roof project and the lighting of the tower at Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — It likely won’t rival the ball drop in Times Square, but celebrants are expected Thursday night at an outside New Year’s Eve gathering at Asbury United Methodist Church where people will be looking up and reflecting on a successful project performed during a difficult year.

A repaired light system will illuminate the church’s belfry that will become a regular beacon of inspiration able to be seen from blocks around the church at 327 Franklin St. It’s part of a capital project that addressed the church’s roof, tower and some structural issues inside the church.

The project to replace between 18,000 and 20,000 square feet of roof faced steep obstacles in May when it began.

“It was a surprise once a week, or sometimes once a day,” said retired veterinarian Dr. Glen D. Snell, president of the church trustees.

As work was about to begin, it was discovered that a 150-foot lift could not reach the shingles covering the peak.

The structure height from the Parker Street level to the top of the steeple is 165 feet. The lift could only reach 15 feet up to the 65-foot tall belfry.

To reach the peak, a scaffolding array was constructed. The weight of the scaffolding, approximately 10 tons, caused its own problems. Worked stopped as inside beams were stabilized to support the weight of the scaffolding.

The structural design of the scaffolding and for several interior renovations was provided by Tamarack Engineering, Watertown. Scaffolding, provided by Stebbins Engineering, was erected by Capital Construction. In addition to painting, KL Painting, Watertown, was tasked with other projects at the church for the project, including repairs for the original tin siding of the belfry and mortar repairs.

The roof work itself was performed by RSI Roofing Inc., Gouverneur.

“They were very professional and very good to work with,” Dr. Snell said. “We’re grateful that it’s done.”

One part of the project repaired a broken light system — four spotlights on the lower section of the roof — that illuminated the church’s 65-foot-tall belfry.

“We have a system to light that tower, which was not working before the tower was repaired,” Dr. Snell said.

The painted “brilliant white” of the tower, combined with the repaired light system should result in a stunning site, Dr. Snell said.

“This is going to be a shining light within the city, and at night, with the white tower up there, it’s going to be very bright and it’s going to look very nice,” he said.

The lights will be on a timer, Dr. Snell said, with a preliminary schedule of 5:30 p.m. to midnight, beginning tonight.

Tonight’s ceremony is also scheduled for 5:30.

“We’ll be outside, and it’ll be cold, maybe rainy,” Dr. Snell said. “But we’ll sing a few songs to basically celebrate the lighting of the tower.”

The public is invited to the socially-distanced event.

The church itself was built of Pennsylvania marble at a cost of $125,000. Work began on Asbury United Methodist Church in 1907 and was finished in 1914. An education wing was added in 1965. Its 1914 price tag, with inflation, would be $3.2 million today.

“This is the first rebuild and correction of problems in probably 100 years, since the church was built,” Dr. Snell said.

The original cost of the project when started in May had been around $500,000. By August, the price tag grew to $600,000.

“It was quite an undertaking,” Dr. Snell said. “Now, we have to start working on the sanctuary area and the damage that had been done with the leaking roof prior to this.”

The cost now, he said, is in the neighborhood of $750,000.

“The capital campaign is still in place,” Dr. Snell said. “We’ve been very fortunate. Our congregation has been super about supporting this, as has been the community. Our bills are all current and all paid and we are so far debt-free. I’m not sure whether that will be able to hold or not.”

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