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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

Why is the church asking the town for money?
Can anyone get a CPC Grant?
Why doesn’t your diocese or religous governing body maintain the building?
What has the church done to maintain the steeple? Don’t you get money from the cell towers?
Are the cell towers responsible for the damage?
What is the total cost of the First Parish steeple restoration project?
Will my taxes go up to pay for this project?
Wouldn’t this town money be better spent on more teachers or firefighters?
What about the separation of church and state?
Why can't we just put in an electric clock mechanism?
Will the town have to wind the clock once it's repaired?
What are the hands and face of the clock made of?
How was the estimate prepared and the cost determined?
What are the process and the timeline for getting approval of the CPC grants?

 

Why is the church asking the town for money?

First Parish Church is on both the State and National Register of Historic Places and is one of the oldest and most prominent structures in the historic district. As such, it is required by the town to be maintained so that its appearance and materials reflect the time it was built back in 1842. This makes routine maintenance and restoration much more expensive and frequent than would be the case if modern materials could be substituted. In addition, First Parish owns the steeple and the Town of Chelmsford owns the clock.

The Community Preservation Committee has monies set aside for historical preservation, affordable housing and open space. Under the guidelines of the Historic Preservation Act, as a historic building First Parish qualifies to apply for a Community Preservation Committee (CPC) grant. As custodians of this historic building, we take pride in maintaining it for everyone in town, not just for ourselves as parishioners. CPC funds will allow us to continue to maintain First Parish’s historical integrity and its appearance as a principal landmark of central Chelmsford.

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Can anyone get a CPC Grant?

No, applicants for Historic Preservation funds from the CPC must pass several hurdles before being considered for funding. The structure must be listed on the State or Local Register of Historic Places. A perpetual Historic Preservation restriction may be required by the local CPC to be placed on the structure to ensure that future modifications to the structure do not alter the historic character of the building.

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Why doesn’t your diocese or religous governing body maintain the building?

The First Parish Unitarian Universalist (UU) church is a self-sustaining community. We receive no support from any diocese or equivalent organization: The operation of the church is paid for entirely by our individual members (~200) through an annual fund drive or canvass.

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What has the church done to maintain the steeple?

In 1955 the steeple was rebuilt after a lighting strike, and in 1981 various beams, clock supports, floors, roof, and shingles were replaced and the new work was painted. Since then, the church paid to have the steeple painted in September 1999, and the church replaced and painted the bell cradle in March 2000.

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Don’t you get money from the cell towers?

Yes, First Parish does receive approximately $50,000 in revenue annually from the cell towers. About half of this money has been and will continue to be spent on maintaining this historic building. Unfortunately, in recent years the church has needed much work, including rewiring, a new furnace, parking lot repaving, installation of a handicap-accessible bathroom and replacement windows, slate and roof repairs, a septic connection, exterior painting of the church and steeple, and more. Because we are required by the Town of Chelmsford Historic District to maintain the historical integrity of the building, the cost of exterior repairs is greatly increased.

The other half of the cell tower income is dedicated to making charitable donations to outreach programs to assist service groups inside and outside of the church. This has included Table of Plenty, NOLA service team, and SHIFT coalition to name a few.

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Are the cell towers responsible for the damage?

No, the majority of the damage is age and weather related. The equipment for the cell tower is located at the far end of the church from the steeple. Only light antennae are in the steeple itself. It’s weight is supported by the ceiling over the sanctuary and has no weight bearing on the steeple.

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What is the total cost of the First Parish steeple restoration project?

The total cost for the First Parish steeple restoration is $243,094. The amount of CPC money requested for the project is $185,044. Since the town of Chelmsford owns the clock and First Parish Church owns the steeple, the cost for the repairs – approved by the CPC – was divided into two grants, one for the clock and one for the steeple.

The CPC grant for repairs to the town’s clock was for $96,424 (separate from the steeple repair). This covers 100% of the repairs to the clock, as well as the outer structure, which houses the clock. Unlike First Parish, the town is not required to contribute any general funds to this repair – it will all be paid for out of the CPC grant.

The other CPC grant, for $88,620, will be used to repair the steeple. The 200 members of First Parish Church will be responsible for the balance of $45,000, in addition to the already incurred costs of $13,050 to review the damage and prepare professional plans.

We have heard some concerns from the Town Meeting Representatives, the Finance Committee and the Selectman about the cost sharing on this project.

The church has offered to cover more of the expense for the repairs. First Parish will split the $133,620 steeple portion in half, increasing our contribution to $66,810 from $45,000, which will lower the Churches portion of the grant request.

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Will my taxes go up to pay for this project?

No, the funding for the project comes from the Community Preservation Act fund. A small tax surcharge (already in place), in addition to a grant from the state, provides the money for the Community Preservation Act fund. Taxes will not increase as a result of the project.

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Wouldn’t this town money be better spent on more teachers or firefighters?

No, the Community Preservation Act fund is earmarked specifically for historical preservation, affordable housing and open space. The town of Chelmsford has $1,000,000 set aside per year for such expenses; by law this money cannot be spent on anything else.

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What about the separation of church and state?

The Community Preservation Act allows for the funding of historic preservation for any structure that is listed on the State or Local Register of Historic Places. CPA funds have been used in several towns for the historic preservation of churches.

In many ways, the town of Chelmsford and First Parish have been intertwined since their inceptions. From the invitation to the Rev. Fiske and his congregation in the early 1650ʼs to the present, the Town and the congregation have shared their histories. The present meetinghouse, the fourth building on this site, served as both a religious and government center as did its three predecessors. First Parish still plays a vibrant role in the Chelmsford community and has been good neighbor to the town.

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Why can't we just put in an electric clock mechanism?

The town could choose to do that. But we believe that George Adams Parkhurst said it best: “ Some towns, having the ill-advised notion that anything not powered by electricity should be relegated to the junk pile, having substituted an electric motor for the carefully machined and assembled clockworks that have served faithfully for a century and, with a minimum maintenance, can be expected to continue for several decades. In the name of “progress”, they have discarded a part of their heritage.” (p.6, “The Village Clock at Chelmsford Center 1876-1976”, published by the Chelmsford Historical Society)

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Will the town have to wind the clock once it's repaired?

Yes, there is town money set aside yearly for these services.

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What are the hands and face of the clock made of?

The clock hands are made of pine, but the estimate includes the recommendation that the pine be replaced with cedar. The reasoning for this is cedar is a much harder wood and will last much longer. The rationale behind the estimate is to restore the steeple to the condition required by the Historic District and to get longevity out of the materials used.

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How was the estimate prepared and the cost determined?

First Parish Church hired Menders, Torrey & Spencer Inc. (MTS) an architectural preservationist firm to assist us in determines the scope of work for this project. MTS worked with American Steeple Company and Structures North Consulting Engineers Inc. and walk the site, took pictures and submitted an estimate to First Parish Church. After meeting with the CPC it was decided to breakout the work into two components, FPC and the Town of Chelmsford for the interior and exterior clock repairs.

The cost associated with the clock restoration includes:

  • Maintenance needed on the mechanism itself 7,500.00
  • Scaffolding 12,500.00
  • Scrape, repair, prime and paint 4,000.00
  • Replace roof at belfry with 20oz flat seam soldered copper including back and cap of clock arches, bell cradle, roof edges and belfry structural post base flashing. This section of the roof protects the clock mechanism clock which is located directly below the belfry and part of the exterior clock materials. 15,000.00
  • Replace deteriorated clapboards and restore wood molding including the clock face crown molding. 3,000.00
  • Restore – Spanish cedar t&g used to resurface clock faces at four elevations (remove numerals, scrape, prime, 2 finish paint coats), repair clock hands, and re-gild numerals and hands. Cemetery side requires plywood replacement. 18,000.00
  • General Conditions is prorated based on the above cost. 1,897.00
  • Contingency is prorated based on the above cost 5,000.00
  • Lighting Allowance 20,000.00
  • Restoration design services for restoration drawings, specifications, bidding, construction administration prorated on above cost. 9,528.00

The total cost related to the clock comes to 96,425.00

The cost associated with the steeple restoration includes:

  • Scaffolding 12,500.00
  • Scrape, repair, prime and paint 14,500.00
  • Restore, re-gild weathervane assembly 3,600.00
  • Replace 18” dia. Wood ball with new Spanish cedar or copper replica, painted 1,300.00
  • Replace lantern roof and spire base flashing with 20oz flat seam soldered copper 4,500.00
  • Add lead flashing at wood pilaster capitals at lantern and belfry 1,200.00
  • Replace belfry roof and lantern base flashing with 20oz flat seam soldered copper 5,500.00
  • New timber framed bell cradle integrated with new bell deck roofing and flashing system 2,800.00
  • Replace belfry railing in Spanish cedar, with new sloped rail cap 6,000.00
  • Replace roof at belfry with 20oz flat seam soldered copper including back and cap of clock arches, bell cradle, roof edges and belfry structural post base flashing. This section of the roof protects the clock mechanism clock which is located directly below the belfry and part of the exterior clock materials. 15,000.00
  • Replace deteriorated clapboards and restore wood molding including the clock face crown molding. 4,000.00
  • Restore/recreate fanlight louvers at east and west gable ends of sanctuary roof, including draining copper pan behind. 3,000.00
  • Replace broken, missing, cracked and non-matching slates with Munson slates to match existing. Install new 20oa copper flashing at intersection of roof and tower. 12,000.00
  • General Conditions is prorated based on the above cost. 3,103.00
  • Structural repairs 20,300.00
  • Contingency is prorated based on the above cost 10,000.00
  • Restoration design services for restoration drawings, specifications, bidding, construction administration prorated on above cost. 14,317.00

The total cost related to the steeple comes to 133,620.00 less FPC contribution of 45K

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What are the process and the timeline for getting approval of the CPC grants?

On Wednesday February 16, 2011, the CPC approved two grants for a total of $185,044 to cover repairs to both the town-owned Clock ($96,424) and the First Parish steeple ($88,620).

The CPC grant to the town and First Parish still needs to be voted on by Town Representatives at Town Meeting, which begins on Monday April 25th.

If the grants are approved, work would begin in the summer for completion by the fall of this year.

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First Parish Covenant

We, the members of First Parish of Chelmsford, covenant together to sustain and strengthen our beloved community by:
Honoring and celebrating the Spirit of Life
Nurturing all souls in our search for truth and the sacred
Caring and being present to one another in our joys and sorrows
Bearing witness through service to justice and peace
And being good stewards of our congregation, our heritage, our Unitarian Universalist Principles, and our earth.

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Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133