Perhaps you have noticed that the front of our church and the rectory next door look as though they have just been transplanted from some battle-scarred city in the Middle East. All over the front of these two buildings chunks of stone are missing. Well the chunks, or divots, are not the result of rebels shooting wildly their AK-47’s, but rather the insidious result of OXIDATION. In other words, RUST.
Our church and rectory are both 60 years old. I can tell you from personal experience (now having reached the ripe old age of 62), that once you hit 60 systems begin to fail. This is certainly true for our church and rectory. In fact it has been going on for a while.
Our buildings are clad in a four-inch thick veneer of limestone. That is what you see on the outside. This limestone is held onto the building by metal angle-irons. And it seems these metal fasteners were not galvanized steel but ordinary steel which is prone to rust. And as it rusts it expands. Slowly, inexorably, incessantly the rust pushes and pushes until finally the stone can stand it no longer and a piece (a divot) pops out relieving the pressure. And when they pop out they fall to the ground. Perhaps in the past you have seen parts of the limestone façade lying on the ground around the church. I have.
As I wrote in my column on June 2, we have hired a team of architects, engineers and contractors to do a study of the outside of the church. We wanted to know both the condition of the building and how we could clean the dark staining (mold). As the team did the study, they removed any loose pieces before they could fall and hurt someone. They also found many places that were patched in the 70’s, and most of those were loose and dangerous. With all those removed it left our front looking rather battered. But while less attractive, it is safer.
But that is not all. They also examined the cross on top of the tower. A large chunk of stone came off in their hands. The cross is badly weathered and in poor shape. They had to do emergency remedial action, and so if you look closely you will see the cross is bound up with orange nylon straps. This is not UT burnt orange. It is strictly a safety issue. We will be monitoring the cross to insure it remains stable and safe. We are also pursuing a permit from the city for sidewalk protection.
You can see four pictures of the damage on line at our parish website, www.staustin.org. I have sent additional information to the parish staff, the finance council, the parish council and the property committee.
The study team is to give us their final report at the St. Austin Parish Property Committee on Wednesday, August 21. I am sure I will have more to report to you after that. This promises to be a major project, one we will be living with for a while to come.
Our parish is vibrant, active and healthy. Our building is in need of repair. Between the two, buildings are much easier (if terribly expensive) to fix.