Safety Concerns Require Demolition of Bell Tower

Many observers have noted and expressed concerns about the recent demolition of the stone bell tower of the former church on North Avenue, just south of the Police-Court Facility. The City, myself included, should have done a better job of communicating the reasons for the tower demolition, especially to interested parties, such as local history and arts advocates. With apologies that this information was not distributed earlier, I offer the following:

On the morning of Monday, July 5th, a section of the stone facade on the upper portion of the bell tower dislodged and fell to the ground. The stones fell directly onto a public walkway leading from the parking area to the front of the Police-Court Facility. Fortunately, because the Court was closed for the holiday weekend, there was minimal pedestrian activity, but this area of sidewalk is normally heavily trafficked.

Visual inspection on that day revealed several long diagonal cracks in the mortar adjacent to the corners of the parapet at the top of the tower as well as longitudinal cracking at the base of the tower. The tower is a freestanding structure. The area at the base of the tower was cordoned off immediately.

The Department of Public Works retained a structural engineer to inspect the tower and offer recommendations to repair or remove sections of the tower as appropriate. The engineer determined that minimal repair of the tower, to obtain only 25 years of additional life, would entail the full replacement of the tower’s entire upper section at a cost of approximately $550,000. In the interest of public safety and cognizant of our challenging fiscal condition, the City Administration reluctantly concluded that demolishing the tower was the only realistic option.

The Department of Public Works is now in the process of engaging another structural engineer to evaluate the integrity of the main body of the church. It is anticipated that this evaluation will be completed during September, and I hope very much that the church will be judged sound. Whatever the result of the analysis, no additional action should be undertaken prior to consultation with interested parties and preservationists.

Although circumstances did not present the City with any other choice, the destruction of the bell tower is a sad event, and I share the feelings of those who have observed this loss with distress.