‘It feels like a miracle’: New beam marks major milestone in New Milford church construction project
NEW MILFORD — The sound of cheers and applause resonated last week outside First Congregational Church as a crowd of church leaders and members gathered to watch a major construction project — the installation of a new structural beam.
“It feels like a miracle,” said Doris Papp, a member of the church’s communication committee. “I feel like God is smiling on this church.”
It was a historic day for the more than 300-year-old church and its members, who raised over $625,000 for the project, which includes repairing the failing ceiling beam, restoring the building’s structural integrity and removing the temporary steel supports inside the historic meetinghouse.
Of that total, a $100,000 grant was received from the State Historic Preservation Office.
A large crane and construction crews from Lambert and Barr LLC and Erection & Welding Contractors LLC were on the ground and the partially opened roof, where workers coordinated the removal and installation of the beams.
An original truss made of antique chestnut was removed, having been cut in four separate pieces, by a crane that hoisted each piece over the church’s back parking lot.
The four pieces totaled about 3,000 pounds, while the new steel beam installed weighs 6,000 pounds.
Jim Lambert, of Lambert and Barr LLC, said he estimates the tree used to make the original beam was 37 years old when it was cut and milled for the project.
Before the new steel beam was lifted to the roof, leaders and the construction crew held a signing ceremony, penning their names and the date in Sharpie on the new beam.
“It was a wonderful event and it was great to see people in person,” said member Barbara Ahern. “After so many years, and hard work, to see it coming together is a fabulous feeling.”
Parishioners have been anxiously awaiting this day. Problems with the roof began in the winter of 2010-11 when repeated heavy snowfalls blanketed the region.
A dip in the sanctuary’s ceiling was discovered in the fall of 2012 while changing light bulbs in the chandeliers.
The discovery forced the closure of the sanctuary in October of that year, and a structural engineer was hired to assess and make temporary repairs to support beams until funds could be raised to completely repair the roof.
A temporary steel structure was put in place inside the sanctuary to secure the roof in 2013.
The church’s Raise the Roof Committee began fundraising efforts that lasted years.
Construction work for this phase of the project began late last month.
“I can’t believe today actually happened,” Becky Passero, Christian education director, said in the moments following the event. “It was amazing to watch it all.”
David Eherts, a member of the church’s Raise the Roof Committee, agreed.
“It was so organized and documented with photos,” Eherts said, adding it was a “privilege” to be a part of the process.
The temporary structure in the sanctuary is expected to be removed soon.