Strong Place Church Construction Update

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Over the weekend, Michael Ingui of Baxt Ingui Architects sent in a progress report on the Strong Place Church conversion that the firm is overseeing. Below is a condensed version.

The Strong Place Church is going very well, but a little slow. It has been incredibly challenging to keep the church standing. The contractor and engineer devised an elaborate structural steel system that spanned the entire width of the church so that they could complete structural concrete work below. After the concrete foundation work was competed at the side walls the permanent structural steel above was installed. This was an incredibly time-consuming task, adding many weeks to the timeline, because the steel workers needed to carefully thread the massive pieces of steel through the maze of shoring steel. Once the steel was in place at the sides they removed the shoring steel so that work could commence in the center portion of the church.

They have spent most of the past 3 or 4 months working in the chapel section of the church (the portion that was once used as a day care center). The completion of this portion is what will help to stabilize the wall that separates the chapel from the front church portion. The same method that was described in the church portion was used here. The structural steel is complete and the concrete slab has been poured on most of the floors in this section.

The planning work for the implementation of the landmark approved restoration of the exterior is almost complete. After an exhaustive search we were able to locate about four window companies that could build the new windows. The team decided to go with Trade Wood (www.tradewoodindustries.com). The windows will be solid mahogany throughout (even in the rear portion that is not visible from the street). They will be painted on the exterior (as per Landmarks request) and will be natural on the interior. Trade Wood is capable of manufacturing windows and doors that will follow the original arch perfectly and are able to recreate all of the molding profiles while creating windows that will be operable (as per NYC building code).

The developer is also in negotiations with the same exterior contractor (Burda) that completed the brownstone renovation at the Grace Church. Both churches have the same brownstone treatment and we felt that the mix of restored pieces of brownstone (in as many places as you can do it) mixed with recreated stone next to it is a far superior treatment than the typical grinding down of the old stone, scratch coat, and installing a coat of tinted cement plaster on top of the white scratch coat.

This does not come with its challenges on the Strong Place Church façade. The water damage that rotted all of the wood that supported all of that beautiful plasterwork on the interior did a real job on the exterior stones from behind making some of the joints massive and compromising some of the stones (visually not structurally because they are about 18 thick). This church has also had a coating of the brown tinted cement plaster. The blessing here is that they put the layer of tinted cement plaster on top of the original brownstones with no grinding and no scratch coat. The water from the interior and exterior has already found its way between the layers and has popped off quite a bit of this tinted cement plaster layer creating the patchwork façade that has been visible for a number of years.

Although the contractor is doing a good job this project has not been without its growing pains: The demolition sub contractor worked in a fast and clean manner, but they delivered the dumpster at an early hour that made everyone cringe. He was reacting to the supermarket truck problems and traffic issues during the day and not the people sleeping across the street creating immediate complaints and an immediate change in schedule for dumpster drop off.

Keeping the exterior of the church clean has also been a real challenge. Every construction site is a magnet for illegal dumping and the like. We also have an individual that places bowls of cat food behind the construction fence to feed the cats. The workers remove the bowls continuously, but this is after they have been there all night.

The best squad also paid the site a visit recently and shut it down for a few days. Although I was not there and was not directly involved, I got the sense from the contractor that the best squad was a knowledgeable and effective team. They were able to describe exactly what they wanted and came back the minute the condition was improved so that there would be no further delay.

Although the best squad was really there to inspect the structural shoring work, they also cited a few minor elements including the boulders on the street. The contractor had taken down a section of shoring in order to install the permanent steel and the best squad wanted the shoring back up until the minute the permanent steel was about to be put in place (the permanent steel is now in place).

With the main portion of the rear structural work completed, the contractor can now focus on the center portion of the church. It is their hope that the pace of the project will pick up significantly now that the major structural work is completed.
Strong Place Church Conversion: Slow ‘n’ Steady [Brownstoner] GMAP DOB
Strong Place Church Conversion In Full Swing [Brownstoner]
Strong Place Church: Next Step, Scaffolding [Brownstoner]

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  • Thanks, Michael. Can you share any renderings of wat the interiors are going to look like with the Brownstoner crowd. I’m sure Mr. B would run them!

  • Yep, MUCH more activity over the last few weeks. Btw, the boulders in the street have been an ongoing attempt by workers to prevent people from parking at night so that the space is clear for equipment in the morning. Not sure if that is how it is supposed to work. Often there are tenacious parkers moving big rocks out of the way at night to make room for their cars. I don’t know who the cat person is, but she is pretty stubborn! I look forward to this all being over. Thanks for the update.

  • So you mean whoever overpays for this puppy will have a crazy cat lady as a neighbor? Charming.

  • Once this place is occupied, I doubt the cat feeding will continue. I haven’t seen much a problem with stray cats around here anyway. I guess the architect was implying that the food might attract rodents, but so far, that does not seem to be happening.

  • I know there’s a huge rat problem on Court Street but closer to Bergen – you can see them at night when places like Tasti D-lite put out their trash. It might be a valid concern but I’ve never seen rats that far down or over. As for stray cats, I’ve seen only one or two in the neighborhood that I can think of and I’ve been here two years now.

  • cobblebill

    Excellent post. As a resident of the neighborhood, I appreciate a builder/architect who takes the time to be transparent about the process. Let’s be honest, all construction is deeply annoying when it’s next door. But when the doctor explains “why” he’s drilling a hole in your head, it helps.

  • Actually, it’s a cat man. I saw him sneak the bowl in through the fence one evening when I was walking past the church (I live just down the block). I have never seen any cats (or rats for that matter) there though. Now I usually try and walk home on the other side of the street, b/c my shoes always get dirty from all the brown dirt that’s on the sidewalk.

  • I just knew I was making an assumption when I typed lady! I guess the stereotype is pretty strong. I have two (cats) myself.

  • hee! Yep, there are crazy cat men too. Pretty funny.

  • tons of stray cats in the neighborhood.. walk by the abandoned carriage house on congress and henry. probably a dozen of them. and, always a full bowl of food right under the scaffolding that’s been there forever. i guess crazy cat man makes his rounds all over cobble hill.

  • I live on the block right across from the project, and its amazing to see people dragging and shoving these massive rocks at 1 in the morning to squeeze their cars in, and i watch the contractor the next morning have to send away the dump truck and waste a day, and some times the cars will stay parked till Thursday curb cleaning rules completely setting those guys back a week, thats why its taking so dam long for them to get anything done in a timely manner. if we the neighbors would be a little more cooperative and understanding and stop dumbing our trash and recycling ( I won’t mention names but I see it every other night from my window)at the site then we wouldn’t have to listen the noise for another two dam more years.

  • I’m curious as to when they make the roof! At what point of construction does it matter if pouring rain gets inside? (They are moving LOTS of dirt this week!)