Church razing ‘a touchy situation’
Weight of stone a concern for demolition crew
After two months of asbestos abatement, workers will start demolition in earnest today on the former German Reformed Church at 12th Avenue and 15th Street, near the police station.
The work will be difficult and dangerous, because of the weight of the stone and the steepness of the roof, said Glenn Ray, owner of G&R Excavating and Demolition in Tyrone.
“It’s a touchy situation,” Ray said. “We’ll be doing it very carefully and slowly.”
Workers will be moving machinery in and may begin “picking” at the back — or may focus first on the adjacent parsonage, Ray said.
The work should take about 60 days, he said.
The Altoona Police Department will help with any necessary restrictions, Ray said.
He hopes it won’t be necessary to barricade more than the parking areas next to the buildings, he said.
After demolition, the property will be used for parking for occupants of the former Vipond Building, which is being renovated by the Curry group for its headquarters and as space for engineering and business programing for Saint Francis University and a financial services tenant.
There are likely to be time-capsule artifacts in the church cornerstone, according to Ray.
When he finds those, he generally contacts the local historical society or museum, so the artifacts can be preserved, he said.
“I want to do the right things,” he said.
The initial German Reformed congregation organized itself in 1863 and completed the first church on that corner in 1868, after delays caused by the Civil War, according to local historian Michael Farrow.
The congregation replaced that first church with the current building in 1903, incorporating some stones from the first church in the back wall “for continuity,” Farrow wrote in an email.
The artifacts in the cornerstone of the current church will be especially interesting if they include items from the 1860s, Farrow wrote.
The Reformed church was one of five that gave nearby Gospel Hill its name, according to Farrow.
It was the last to be built, following construction of the English Lutheran Church, St. John’s Catholic Church, the First Methodist Church and the First Presbyterian Church, he wrote.
There may also be time capsule items from a third period for G&R to find, according to Debbie Schunk of Tyrone, a member of the congregation in 1964 of what was by then called the Christ Reformed Church.
That year was the centennial of the founding, and members of the congregation were encouraged to submit memorabilia, according to Schunk.
She thinks her father may have contributed pictures of her family, including herself.
The items went into a rectangular silver box, Schunk said.
A section of concrete sidewalk at the corner was broken up, a hole dug and the box buried, then the hole refilled, as Schunk recalls.
“That was a big deal for us to do that,” Schunk said. “I think there should be some goodies in there.”
An inspection of the sidewalk at the corner on Tuesday showed that the recent construction of an access ramp included replacement of concrete all the way to the church building, which could indicate that the box may no longer be there.
There has been some disappointment from community members about losing the more-than-century-old church building.
But another former church nearby is being renovated — the First Methodist on 12th Avenue at 13th Street.
That structure will become home to the Center City Church. The dedication of the Center City Church sanctuary is on May 21, Pastor Jim Kilmartin said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.