Sunday, May 10, 2009

North Church Roof Repairs

Article 18 k: North Congregational Church Roof Repairs: $ 7000

The congregation of the 1826 North Church approached us with a very modest request for support. The church has already undertaken a series of major and very expensive repairs following damage from a storm. Recently, however, the contractors discovered additional, structural problems in the original construction of the roof. Addressing this issue now can help to ensure the integrity of the building in years to come.

The church is what is called a "contributing structure" of the North Amherst National Historic Register District. From the NHR nomination:
“[North Amherst Center] is the historic civic, religious, and commercial center for North Amherst. The church [1826], meeting hall [1845 parish hall—on the church property], library [1893], school [1833/1845/1860/1887], fire department [1920], tavern [1803], and general store have all been clustered in the area since [beginning around] 1821. . . . North Amherst is located at the primary junction of the north-south road between Amherst and Sunderland (North Pleasant Street) and an east-west road from Amherst to [North] Hadley (Meadow and Pine Street).”
As a historical and visual anchor of the neighborhood, the church thus ranks high on any list of preservation priorities.

By affirming the historic and architectural importance of the structure through the appropriation of a modest share of CPA funds, the Town may help the church to secure assistance from private grants in the case of future repair needs.


Is there a problem with giving CPA funds to a private group?

No. Community Preservation Act Committees across the Commonwealth regularly disburse funds to private property owners and organizations. Such grants represent the public interest in the preservation of a given property and concretely help to protect it.

It is the law that there must be a quid pro quo for a grant of public preservation funds to a private body--usually in the form of a historic preservation restriction. The restriction is the legal means of affirming the Town's interest in the public view and character of the structure. The church would commit--vis-à-vis the Town and the Commonwealth (via Massachusetts Historical Commission) not to destroy or undertake measures harmful to the building, and in particular, the view from the public way. Such agreements simply formalize our shared interest (in all senses of the word) in the preservation of a landmark.

Is there a problem regarding church and state?

No. Such issues require due diligence and proper sensitivity, but numerous churches and other religious structures have received preservation support from state and federal funds.

The issue has come up in the past when religious organizations approached us with potential funding requests (which they, for various reasons, chose not to pursue). In Town Counsel's opinion, there is no threat to the wall of separation here. The Community Preservation Act Coalition agrees. Grants to churches are nothing new.

As with any private property, the action here signifies the public interest in the public aspect of the site: its history and visual character.

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