A sign of hope has emerged for the historic Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but many more pieces need to fall in place before city officials can sign off in earnest on plans to preserve the structure.
So caution in this matter still is advised, and we think Albany city councilors are justified in their worries that the church could become an expensive money pit for the city. If talks now underway don't show signs of progress, it may be (sad as this is to say) that demolition could turn out to be the best option.
The city purchased the building in 2000 for $150,000 as part of a road construction project planned at the time. The project changed and the building, long vacant, has continued to deteriorate.
Every year, the city dumps another $5,000 or so into the upkeep of the structure, keeping the plumbing functional and making sure that the building doesn't fall into complete disrepair. But time has taken its inevitable toll: The building’s roof has been patched numerous times and continuing to do so is no longer viable, said Chris Bailey of the city's Public Works Department. It's not at all unreasonable for the city to want to have the building off its hands.
But, as we have noted before, there is something cool about the old building. And some of its fans think the building could take on another life entirely as a community center. In fact, a neighborhood group has launched an online campaign to save the church and has said it's willing to take on a fundraising campaign to renovate it, if the city would commit to paying the costs for a move.
The campaign to preserve the church has picked up a notable supporter in the form of Yohn Baldwin, the president of Baldwin General Contracting. In a letter to Ed Hodney, director of the Albany Parks & Recreation Department, Baldwin said his company stands ready to "be of assistance in any effort to save and preserve" the building.
Baldwin didn't make a formal offer to the city in his letter, but he brings experience and a passion for historic building restoration to the table — both essential ingredients. He also owns property adjacent to the church site at the corner of Santiam Road and Main Street, and thus has a vested interest in the future of the parcel.
Baldwin added that he think's it's feasible, from a construction standpoint, to move the 126-year-old church to city-owned property by the skatepark, as has been suggested.
Baldwin's letter didn't have an estimate as to how much the move would cost, but earlier estimates pegged that at $50,000 to $60,000. He did have a rough estimate of what it would cost to renovate the exterior and to bring the interior to a "gray shell" condition: $550,000. And it's worth remembering that, in general terms, a "gray shell" interior is one that's completely unfinished, without essentials such as plumbing or electrical systems.
With a price tag like that, the council is right to be skeptical. After all, it doesn't make that much sense just to move the deteriorating church from one city-owned site to another one if there's no solid plan in place about what to do with the building after the move.
There isn't any hurry, though — after all, the city has owned the building already for nearly two decades. So the council was right to ask Hodney to pursue additional discussions with Baldwin.
As Baldwin noted in his letter, there's potentially a huge upside to all this: The end result could be "a beautiful asset to the historic building inventory in Albany, providing a project the community could get behind and support." But we're a long, long way from that result — and the hurdles are such that we might not be able to get over them. So, yes, let's proceed with these discussions, but let's proceed with caution and a skeptical eye. (mm)