Wall crumbles to the touch at Clarksville church

Wall replacement project an expensive repair for local church

August 23, 2014
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
A wall in the basement of the 120-year-old Clarksville Christian Church is being replaced after it started to crumble after years of water damage. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
Dust fills the air inside the basement of the Clarksville Christian Church while a worker from Whipkey Construction applies mortar to a concrete block nearby. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
A cinder block wall in the church basement that faces Market Street is being replaced. A second wall, facing Main Street, might need to be replaced. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
Workers from Whipkey Construction of Carmichaels apply mortar to concrete blocks in the basement of Clarksville Christian Church. Order a Print
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Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter
The basement of Clarksville Christian Church is exposed to the elements as workers from Whipkey Construction Co. lay a new block wall. Order a Print

CLARKSVILLE – Water has long been a problem in the basement of Clarksville Christian Church, but parishioners did not realize how big a problem until they brought in a contractor to assess the situation.

“We started having a lot of water in the basement after a heavy rain,” said church elder Bob Dobbins. “The church brought in a couple of contractors at different times over the years but until you dug down, there was no way to know how bad things were.”

When Whipkey Construction of Carmichaels began to dig and assess where the water was coming from, there was no turning back. The small congregation quickly faced a charge of about $47,000 to take care of the problem.

“We thought we could seal the foundation to stop the water leak but the block was just breaking apart in your hands like putty. It left us with no other choice but to replace the wall,” Dobbins said.

He credits the generosity of members through the years, along with the support of the community at church dinners for contributing to a reserve fund that will help pay for the project.

“We’ll be totally broke by the time this work is over with,” Dobbins said. “We are going to start to have dinners more often. Since this wasn’t weather-related or catastrophic, we couldn’t collect anything from our insurance.”

It is going to take a lot of church dinners to build the church’s reserve fund to a healthy level again. Hopefully, it won’t face any other issues with facilities, or the need to replace another wall anytime soon.

“It was something that had to be done,” Dobbins said, especially after the situation turned scary.

The wall being replaced runs the length of the front of the church. When construction workers removed the earth that faced it, the wall began to buckle, Dobbins said.

“We were lucky the walls didn’t cave in on us. It was the whole front wall that we had to contend with and then we were afraid the front steps were going to cave in, too,” Dobbins said. “We found out there was no footer.”

There also weren’t any drains to keep water away from the basement walls, Dobbins added.

Older church members, like Chuck Riecks, 70, of Jefferson, remembers contending with water issues when he was a kid attending the church that was built in 1894.

“They built it out of cinder blocks made from ash out of the old coke ovens,” Riecks said. He agreed with Dobbins that if a French drain had been in place the walls probably would not have done this.

Concrete block walls to the rear and right side of the basement were most likely built as part of a 1922 renovation project. They are structurally sound. However, a second cinderblock wall on the left side of the basement could require replacement down the road. Measures being taken by Whipkey Construction to keep water away from the structure and ensure it will not get into the building again could prevent the need for the second wall replacement.

Mike Whipkey, owner of Whipkey Construction, said he found some of the pipes near the building were clogged and cleared them. The company put in six-feet-by-six feet posts to support the ceiling in the basement area while they are working as well as supports beneath the steps that began to sag.

Following a 1922 fire that severely damaged the sanctuary, the church purchased a lot next to the building and a Sunday school room was added. At the same time, a basement was dug under it and beneath the existing structure. It was dedicated on May 28 of that year.

The church, located next to the Clarksville fire hall, opens its doors each summer for vacation Bible school and has served as a warming shelter during winter months.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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