SHEFFIELD — Lanny Perry envisions a community center one day occupying the former Grace Episcopal Church building, but before that can happen, major renovations must take place.
Before the renovations can begin, Perry said the Colbert County Historic Landmarks Commission will he hosting many fundraisers.
“The Historic Sheffield Commission and the SHINE organization have agreed to help us as much as they can,” Perry said.
Built in 1903, the building is in downtown Sheffield across from City Hall within the city’s historic residential district. It has been gradually deteriorating since the congregation left the building for newer accommodations.
A Muscle Shoals couple bought the building last year for the purpose of architectural salvage. At one point, preservationists in Sheffield were concerned the building might be torn down. After removing elements like the stained glass windows, David and Mary Lord donated the building to the Colbert County Historic Landmarks Commission. That ensured the building would remain standing, but it also attracted the attention of the city’s Building Department.
“We cited them for a nuisance violation because the building wasn’t secured,” said Sheffield Fire Chief Dewey King, who is over the Building Department. “They secured the building and did everything we wanted them to do. The building was open and we were afraid someone would get in there and get hurt.”
Perry and David Milstead, a local architect and chairman of the Historic Sheffield Commission respectively, said several things are in the works to preserve the building.
Missing window coverings have been replaced and most of the contents of the building, including the pews, have been removed, Milstead said.
“My son, James A. Milstead, has placed a tarp on the roof of the west side addition,” he said. “Our next step concerning the roof is to place tarps on the roof of the sanctuary.”
Perry said an engineer will inspect the foundation for damage and suggestions on how to best repair the west wall, which is leaning toward the house next door. He said the problem could be affecting the foundation on the opposite side of the building. They are trying to line up a bucket truck to get someone on the roof to place tarps over holes in the sanctuary.
Finding funds for the repairs and renovation might be difficult. Funding for the Alabama Historical Commission has been reduced and there is not as much grant money available as in years past.
“There’s only a limited amount of assistance we can give to one project,” said Robert Gamble, senior architectural historian with the Alabama Historical Commission.
Gamble has met with the Sheffield group to discuss the building’s renovation and potential uses. He said he will continue to provide assistance on the project, which he believes can be completed.
“I feel like this is a doable situation,” Gamble said.
He suggests the Sheffield group divide the project into small goals, rather than have one large, distant goal.
“The task doesn’t seem so great,” Gamble said.
Perry said bringing the building back to a usable condition will take time.
“We’re optimistic about it,” he said. “We haven’t planned another town meeting yet, but we will.”
Money from the first fundraiser and any grants that can be acquired will go to repairing the roof, Perry said. After that, efforts concentrate on the leaning north wall.
Eventually, Perry would like to see the building used as a community center for special events and used by senior citizens. Another idea is to use a portion of the building for a museum featuring Sheffield history and the history of Grace Episcopal Church.
“We’ve got a lot of things going on that we’d like to see completed,” Perry said. “It’s going to be a long, slow process.”
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.