SHEFFIELD — Mary Lord said she and her husband never intended to restore the former Grace Episcopal Church building on Montgomery Avenue.
The cost would have been too much.
Instead, they tried to save some of the unique architectural elements, such as the stained glass windows, some of the original church pews and light fixtures. The building was constructed at the turn of the 20th century.
When the Colbert County Historic Landmarks Foundation expressed interest in the building, the Lords decided to donate the building to the foundation.
"They wanted to preserve and redo the building," Mary Lord said. "If they can preserve it, I'd hate for them not to have it."
The landmarks foundation took possession of the building this month.
About 30 people attended a meeting Thursday at the Sheffield Public Library to discuss possible uses for the building and what needs to be done to improve its condition.
Ninon Parker, vice chairwoman of the foundation, said Greg Qualls, a Huntsville engineer and former Sheffield resident, and architect David Milstead have agreed to help with the project.
Ideas presented during the meeting included a museum to showcase Sheffield's history or a place to house archives for Colbert County.
"It would be a very nice event and meeting facility," Parker said.
Robert Gamble, senior architectural historian with the Alabama Historical Commission, said the Grace Church building is a "signature building" in the North Montgomery Avenue Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Gamble said while 70 percent of the buildings in a historic district are considered historic, there are a smaller number of historic structures that are considered key buildings.
"The Grace Church is certainly one of the key historic buildings," he said.
The building is across the street from Sheffield City Hall.
Lanny Perry, chairman of the Colbert County Historic Landmarks Foundation, said North Montgomery Avenue is reflective of the town's early history.
Gamble said members of the Historical Commission believe it is important to save the building or at least a portion of the building intact because of its role in Sheffield's history.
Gamble said the building could be renovated and used for a variety of purposes.
Rather than renovate the building to be used as a church, Gamble suggests creative uses. An example of a creative use is the nearly 100-year-old First Baptist Church in downtown Bay Minnette, which was transformed into a public library, or a church building in Annapolis, Md., that was transformed into an art gallery.
"I'm really excited to see what they're going to do with it," Lord said.
Perry said preliminary investigations indicate the building is secure and that its preservation is possible, even though there are holes in the roof that allow water to enter the building and one wall leans toward the house next door.
Parker said the landmarks foundation will be pursuing additional estimates and evaluations of the building.
"Stabilizing the building is a high priority to us," Parker said.
Gamble said a new roof that will stem the continued flow of water into the building is an immediate need. He said the challenge will be in raising the money needed to renovate the old building.
"We (the Historical Commission) used to have a grants program," Gamble said. "Because of the financial difficulties we've been facing since 2004, we had to discontinue the annual grants program."
He said there are sources of grant money, but they require "a lot of patience and a lot of persistence."
Private foundations are another source of funding. The landmarks foundation should be able to provide a step-by-step plan on the building's use and how it will be renovated.
"It takes putting together that kind of package," Gamble said.
Gamble commended Sheffield residents for their interest in saving the building.
"I commend the people in Colbert County for being willing to step in at a critical time and help save something like this," Gamble said. "I've always been impressed with the civic spirit in the Quad Cities communities."
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.