ST. FRANCISVILLE — The Rev. Roman Roldan said he noticed the first clue that something was wrong with the Grace Church ceiling last October, when a small section of plaster from the ceiling above the baptismal font crashed to the floor at the front of the church.
The plaster was patched, but the incident exposed a more serious problem when an inspector went into the 155-year-old church’s attic. It was recommended the plaster covering the entire ceiling should be replaced.
“There were large sections of the ceiling where the historical plaster had separated from the wood,” said Roldan, who has served as Grace’s rector for seven years. “He said it was time to leave. It was so bad, a little tap and entire sections could come off.”
The congregation moved services next door to Jackson Hall on Feb. 8, and the repair work began.
The renovation was extensive. The entire plaster ceiling was removed and that revealed another problem: the wood underneath had water damage in spots and there was evidence of termite damage.
The wooden frame and beams were removed and replaced with mesh metal, a much lighter and stronger material. The plaster was replaced by plaster fiber, which is lighter but durable. A modern automatic air return system and exhaust vents were installed in the attic.
“It feels so much cooler in there,” Roldan said.
In addition, during the renovation, the church’s vestry decided to install a new sound system.
Other repairs included replacing the entire roof of the bell tower with a copper roof and a tapered wooden deck so rainwater doesn’t accumulate. The church also used the time to make some repairs to its historic organ, including replacing the plastic keys with cow bone keys.
Roldan said the total cost of the project is $300,000 and the church is paying for it with a combination of reserve funds, contributions from parishioners and the insurance settlement, but he’s hopeful a large part can be funded by historical tax credits given the church’s age and importance to the area.
A big celebration was held Sept. 27, then the congregation finally moved back into the church. There were trumpet players and cantors from LSU at the special service.
“During the repairs, I estimate about 10 to 15 percent reduction in attendance,” said Roldan. “Elderly folks especially had a hard time, so Communion was brought to them during the transition period. It’s nice to see them and they are glad to be back.”
Roldan said he is grateful to the contractor, Lloyd N. Moreau LLC, of Pineville, which specializes in historical restorations.
“They were under budget and added work that was not part of the contract, like they painted the entire church,” he said.
He also praised the effort of project managers, The Architectural Studio, and junior warden Tiger Olsen, who helped supervise the restoration.
“We’re very happy to be back in our church,” Roldan said. “It smells new and fresh, and everybody’s very excited about it.”