With donation, historic black church closer to restoration | The Athens News

The Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society is one step closer to restoring the historic church to its former glory. The O’Bleness Foundation recently donated $15,000 to the Preservation Society toward the expenses of saving the historic black church at 32 W. Carpenter Street, according to a news release issued last Thursday. 

Built in 1906, the building has sustained a lot of water damage from years of flooding, said Ron Luce, the Preservation Society’s treasurer. The group obtained the building officially last July after resolution of a court case involving the building led the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to turn the deed over to them. Since then, Luce said, “we probably raised close to $60,000.”

The first major project necessary for completing the restoration is repairing the roof – a project Luce said could cost between $60,000 and $65,000. The group has made it close to that goal, he added, “but of course we’ve had expenses and things we’ve had to deal with.”

Although the preservation group “probably could pull together” about $50,000 for the project, Luce said, “We are going to move forward with the roof, even if we have to borrow the money for now.”

Dave Vogt, who serves on the O’Bleness Foundation board, has stated that an additional $15,000 will be contributed to the preservation of the building later this year, the news release said. In addition to those funds, Luce said the group will continue to raise funds and apply for grant money “wherever we can get it.”

The roof project, however, cannot be put off much longer.

“We’ve got to get the roof taken care of,” Luce said. “Another year or two of not being protected, and this building will be damaged beyond repair, in my opinion.” With every rain and snowfall, Luce noted, the interior of the building sustains more damage so long as the roof remains in disrepair.

That’s why the re-shingling project is so important. “If nothing else, that will at least protect it for a while” while the Preservation Society accumulates enough funds “to complete the interior work,” Luce said.

An architect is currently drawing up plans for the project and once those are accepted, Luce said, the contractor can get started on finding the right shingles. 

“We’re trying to match as much as we can to the original” shingles’ shape and color,” Luce said. Unfortunately, there aren’t very good records of the old building’s former aesthetic; the Historical Society has only a few black and white photographs, which show the general shape of the roof shingles. “We’re not even positive about the color the original shingles were,” Luce said. Nonetheless, he said he hopes construction on the roof will begin “within a month or so.”

Next in the queue for the restoration are plans to repair the building’s mortar and foundation, the ceiling, wood fixtures and the basement floor, as well as updates to the walls, interior plumbing and electricity, among other things. “We’ve got to pull together around a million dollars” to complete the total restoration, Luce said. “The more the community gets involved in it, the faster that can happen.”

The Preservation Society is already up to roughly 100 members, Luce said, and has received a healthy amount of community support so far.

Luce said he thinks the group can make its goals, and once the building is restored, he hopes it once again will serve the black community in Athens. Though the building “probably will never be a church again,” he said, because he thinks “there isn’t a big enough community for that,” he hopes it can still serve the existing black community and, particularly African-American students at OU, “and maintain the history of the black people in this community who contributed to (Athens) history.”


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