Steeple Restoration Project

Track the story from the simple repair project to major restoration undertaking, beginning in August 2014. Newspaper coverage by FRS member John Harwood includes all the pertinent information on the technical and architectural aspects, as well as the support and funding from the membership and our community.

Update, January 18, 2017
First Religious Society changes ministers during Steeple Project

Update, January 17, 2017
Unitarian Church steeple project finished, but not without more time and money

Update, September 6, 2016

The last stages of this long and complicated project are nearing completion. Among the work remaining for the next few weeks is correction of the steeple lighting issues. As can be seen any evening, the lighting in place has gradually gone from white to purple/pink. This is because the fixtures have failed because of excessive water in the boxes on which the fixtures were mounted. Determination of the cause, the permanent fix and much negotiating has resulted in a plan for this fix. The manufacturer of the fixtures, the electrician who did the installation and the lighting consultant have all made substantial concessions.

Also remaining to be done is the installation of the tall obelisks at the four corners of the bell deck, final rerouting and painting of cell cables to limit visibility from the ground and rehanging of about a half dozen shutters.

Finally, the threshold at the center door has long been a problem. It had deteriorated so badly that a complete replacement was necessary. It is a very large door opening, with a nearly 5’ threshold and sourcing such a piece of white oak would have been problematic. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Bob Levesque of American Steeple, a new threshold has been created from the good section of one of the 12”x12” white oak posts that was removed during the structural fix. The photos show the milled timber with the threshold section removed and the threshold being finalized.

Threshold in progressFinished threshold

Update, May 5, 2016
After 2 years of commitment and dedication of the congregation, and a great deal of hard work by many contractors, the project will be substantially complete in June. All of the structural work in the steeple was completed through the winter and what remains is completion of the copper covering of the bell deck, reseating the bell, completion of finished carpentry at the bell deck, installation of lighting at the bell deck level and final painting of the pediment and front facade. Many have asked about the pink/purple color in the steeple lighting on the upper steeple. This is not intentional, but a failure of some of the light fixtures. The cause of the failure is being determined with the help of our lighting consultant, and this should be resolved by the end of the summer.

An income and expense report may be found on the facing page. We have begun the process of fully reconciling the costs with the main contractor and will be in a position to present the final financial report in September when church reconvenes. The structural work was very complex and ended up taking longer than anticipated. This will result in additional cost that will be reflected in that report.

The result of all of this work is truly impressive. The congregation, with a substantial assist from the community, has succeeded in preserving a historical treasure. The commitment of the congregation was honored on May 15, 2016 when the Newburyport Preservation Trust will award a Historic Preservation Award to the church.

Update, April 19, 2016
Steeple project is highlight of Preservation Week

Update, February 9, 2016

Our extensive painting and restoration project is down to three tasks: completion of the bell deck, removal of the temporary roof, and reinstallation of the two cell companies’ equipment. When those jobs have been completed, the scaffolding will be released back to the scaffolding company, at which point FRS stops paying for it. It will be up to the scaffolding company when to take it down.

Newburyport Daily News

One big step closer, February 1, 2016

Update, December 1, 2015

Structural Repairs Nearly Complete--All the temporary steel is gone our steeple structure is once again intact. The last wind braces have been put into place. Next week work to restore the bell deck will begin, as will putting new siding on the pediment. We can truly say “the end is in sight!”

Newburyport Daily News

Editorial: Support the Unitarian church steeple project, November 20, 2015
First Religious Society embarks on fundraising campaign to help complete repairs, November 13, 2015

Update, October 6, 2015

It's been pretty quiet around the steeple these last couple of weeks. As much work as could be done prior to arrival of the important materials has been done. Sourcing those important materials has taken a while. You can't buy 25' lengths of 12x12 white oak at your local lumberyard! All of the timbers for the posts, girts and wind braces have been milled for us in Ohio and they will be on a truck this week, with arrival likely next week. The steel for the temporary support structure is currently in fabrication and will likely be onsite at roughly the same time as the timbers. That sets the stage for work to proceed in full swing. We hope to have the entire project wrapped up by the end of November, and the scaffolding down (at long last) before Christmas. Thanks for your continued support and patience.--Bill Heenehan

Update, September 8, 2015

On September 2, the First Religious Society voted unanimously to approve spending an additional $357,380 for urgently needed additional repairs to the steeple and to ask the Trustees of the Endowment to extend the working capital line of credit secured by the endowment to an amount sufficient to fund the project until permanent funding can be arranged. One hundred and five members attended the meeting, which was preceded by an informational meeting and tours of the steeple. Parish Board chair Bettina Turner praised the meeting, saying: "There was a strong sense of shared commitment to seeing this project through. It gives me great hope that this focus will carry us as we face the difficult questions and issues yet ahead. I am extremely appreciative of the members who responded to the call at the end of their summer, and for the members of the board and Bill Heenehan, who have worked tirelessly to respond to emergencies and move forward on the renovation."


Membership meeting called, August 25, 2015
Additional structural issues discovered, August 7, 2015

Newburyport Daily News
UU Church Oks $800k Project, March 16, 2015 
UU Steadfast as Project Cost Rises, November 29, 2014 
UU Church Preserving Iconic Steeple, August 16, 2014

Newburyport Current
What’s Green About this Church?, August 29, 2014