Church Renovation

Chad Pysher of Stella LLC stands in front of the former SS. Casimir and Emerich Roman Catholic Church at 505 Power St., in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood. Renovation work on the former church has begun.

Some historic buildings in the Cambria City section of town soon will be getting repairs.

The Grand Halle, the former SS. Casimir and Emerich and the former St. Columba buildings all will see some improvements according to the Steeples Project, the organization that manages the buildings for 1901 Church Inc., the company that owns them.

In early January, construction began on the Grand Halle on Broad Street to create larger, more accessible restrooms and repair its roof.

“We’ve been working on the Grand Halle restroom project for more than two years now, beginning with a contract we entered into with our architect, Landmarks SGA LLC of Somerset, in March of 2013,” said Project Manager of The Steeples Project, Dave Hurst.

“Landmarks designed new restrooms that would fit within the original walls at the Grand Halle, yet would be larger and fully accessible to people with physical disabilities. Then Landmarks put together a project cost estimate that we could use for fundraising purposes.”

Hurst said that fundraising has been ongoing for the past two years.

“This project will make The Grand Halle on Broad Street a more comfortable and accommodating public music hall and event center,” Hurst said.

He added that the roofing repairs will rectify a long-standing water-infiltration problem on that side of the building and will protect the new restrooms.

The project is expected to take about two months and be completed by the end of February.

The Grand Halle will remained closed until March 6, when “Broadway on Broad Street” will be held.

Planning for the former St. Columba has taken a back seat to some of the other projects.

“We have a vision for Columba: to convert its interior into a theater for dramatic arts and use it as the home venue for a professionally produced historical pageant, presenting Johnstown’s immigrant stories,” Hurst said.

“Because this production would involve professional direction, actors, staging, period costumes and authentic ethnic music and dance, we believe this will be a production both educational and entertaining. It would be performed throughout the travel season as another tourism asset drawing visitors to Johnstown.”

Hurst said that with the Grand Halle “beginning to earn its own keep,” the group can shift some time and resources to the former St. Columba building.

“There’s at least one small tree growing near the top of the bell tower. I’d love to remove it, but have lacked the resources to do so to date,” he said.

“Inside, we are concerned about the magnificent oil-on-canvas mural on the apse wall.

“The canvas is beginning to pull away from the frame. We hope to get that mural stabilized this year before it is damaged.”

The former SS. Casimir and Emerich building has been leased to Stella Property Development and Event Production, which is co-owned by Steven Biter and Chad Pysher. The pair, who are also business partners of Cambria City Flowers, plan to separate the event planning they currently do, leaving Cambria City Flowers as its own entity.

“We want to focus on culturally significant buildings and repurposing them for respecting their past, respecting what they were, but using them in a new and modern way; something that’s relevant to the area and beneficial to the whole community,” Pysher said.

According to Pysher, renovations are planned but will not occur on the exterior.

“The work that’s done is really irreplaceable, so we’re really respectful of that,” he said.

Pysher said that interior work would mainly be updating things such as heating, ventilation and electrical systems and restoring the inside of the building.

“The stonework, floor to ceiling, is amazing. We definitely want to maintain its heritage as well,” he said.

“That’s something that’s very important to us because ethnic heritage is something that this cultural district is based on.”

Pysher said he and Biter will announce their plans in March.

“Our plan for (SS. Casimir and Emerich) is something that will honor it’s past, hopefully celebrate the present and create the future,” he said.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the Steeples Project can send contributions to 1901 Church, P.O. Box 163, Jennerstown, PA 15547, or online at steeplesproject.org.

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