Reader Request Week 2023 #6: An Update On the Church
Posted on May 4, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 38 Comments
Several folks in the request thread have asked for an update on the church, with some additional information about what it takes to renew and refurb an old building like this into something useable. As it happens, today we got another milestone in its refurbishment under our belts, so it’s a fine time to catch people up.
1. The refurbishment of the church has gone well, but it’s gone slowly. There are reasons for that: one, we have seasons here in Ohio, and not a whole lot of stuff, particularly outside stuff, gets done in winter. We were fortunate in that winter was mild enough that we could get some things tended to — we got the house just north of the church torn down in January and cleared away quickly thereafter — but in general weather still drew things out.
Two, we are at the mercy of contractor schedules. Our contractors have generally been very good and we don’t get the feeling any of them have strung us along, but at the same time they have other jobs and things they need to get to, and the nature of our refurb is such that we have to do a lot of things in a sequence. For example, to put up bookshelves in the balcony, where I will have a library, we need to have the painter done with the walls. For the painter to paint, we have to have the plaster done for the parts of the walls that need patching (a non-trivial amount, as it happens). And before we could get the plastering done, we had to cap a chimney and close up a part of the church exterior that was letting in moisture.
Today, the plastering is done (that’s the milestone). Next comes the painting. Then comes the bookshelves. We’ll probably get all of that done (knocks on my now rather substantial amount of wood) mid-summer. Keep in mind we’ve been having refurbishment of one sort or another going on since early 2022. So, yeah. It’s going well! And also, not quickly.
2. Also, as you might expect, all that refurbishment hasn’t exactly been cheap. A new 50-year roof? Not cheap! Replacing a nearly 80-year-old knob-and-tube electrical system with something that’s not likely to burn the whole place down? Not cheap! Redoing a concrete retaining wall that was on the verge of falling apart and toppling over? Not cheap! Tearing out an old church kitchen and replacing appliances from the 60s with modern counterparts? Not cheap! Pulling out decades-old industrial carpet and refinishing the hardwood floor underneath? Not cheap! Completely redoing the balcony area so that it is structurally sound and not easy to tumble right the hell off of? You guessed it, also not cheap!
In addition to the church proper, we bought two additional buildings: the parsonage associated with the church (purchased so we wouldn’t have to have the church land sliced into two separate lots, which would cause all sorts of headaches as we refurbished), and the house directly north of the church, which we bought for the land underneath and tore down because it was in poor repair. That was more money into the kitty.
And on top of that, hey, you know that inflation thing that’s been going on? It’s hit building materials and contracting costs as well. We’re paying objectively more for all the materials and work than we would have if we had gotten the church prior to the pandemic and every bit of economic upheaval that’s happened since. But we didn’t, it wasn’t for sale yet, so here we are, shelling out more.
Be aware, I am not expecting sympathy! One does not purchase a nearly 90-year-old building with the expectation that everything is hunky dory and will require no investment at all. When we first looked at the place, Krissy, whose job it is to evaluate structures, said that the bones of the building were good but everything else needed work, and she wasn’t wrong about any of that.
Also, as I noted elsewhere this week, we’re doing okay financially, and are able to handle these costs without a substantial amount of pain. Yes, we had to drop some other purchasing choices, but they were ones that we were likely to drop anyway for unrelated reasons. And if there’s a silver lining on all of this, it’s that as the church and all the costs associated with it are in the service of creating office and content development space for our business, pretty much all of these expenses are tax deductible.
But still, whooooo. Not cheap! And we still have some very not cheap things to get through. Remember those bookshelves I mentioned? Well, they ain’t gonna be particleboard slats bought from Walmart; they’re going to be done by the same local cabinetmaker who made my office bookshelves. They’re going to be solid and terrific and worth every penny… and a whole lot of pennies it will be.
3. The refurbishment is still ongoing but we’re already using the space for its intended purpose. Krissy’s office is set up and she uses it regularly for her various business needs, and to tend to both Scalzi Enterprises (she’s the CEO) and The Scalzi Family Foundation, which has already begun its philanthropic mission. Right now, I camp out in Krissy’s office when I’m there, but my own office (which will be in the alcove that you can see center right in the above photo) will be set up soon as well. On a day-to-day basis, the church will be our business space.
With that said, and as I have noted before, it would be a shame for a building with so much history in the community to be closed off from the community all the time. So there are plans, through the Scalzi Family Foundation, for community-focused events. How those will be managed and the practical aspects of using the building for them are still things we are working on, but we’re pretty optimistic about making them happen. And when we’re finally at a point when all the renovations are done and we’ve furnished and decorated the place to our liking, we’re looking forward to having an open house for the folks in town so they can come in and see what we’ve done with the place.
4. On that score, one of the things we’ve been very happy about is the support we’ve gotten from the folks in Bradford for our purchase and renovation of the church. This building was a cornerstone of the community for decades; people went to church here, got married here, said goodbye to loved ones here, had chicken noodle dinners and Christmas pageants here. When it went up for sale, it would have been anyone’s guess who would buy it and for what purpose. So when people found out we had bought the church and the parsonage, as I understand it there was a bit of relief. They knew us because we’ve lived here for two decades, our kid went to school with their kids, and we’ve contributed to the daily life of the town. We’re a known quantity, basically.
On our side it’s been nice to have people check in with us about the progress, and tell us stories of their own relationship with the church, and be supportive of what we’re doing. We get that we’re now stewards of a building with a history that extends beyond our ownership, and we appreciate that so far, at least, people here seem happy about that. We’re looking forward to keeping the building part of the community for a long time to come. Not as a church anymore — excepting that it’s official name is now “The Old Church” — but still a place that is good for our town and valued in our community. I’m looking forward to that.
Once we get the painting and bookshelves and furnishing and everything else done, that is. It’s going well! There’s more to do.
At first I thought those were a pack of old Furbies, but upon close look, it’s more like plush Japanese style collectibles. Cute, and not nearly as threatening. :)
Cool thing that you’re doing. I hope you’ll keep sharing the renovation progress, and also it would be wonderful to see the place full of people who are happy to be there.
The light fixtures look nice but old church fixtures tend to be expensive to run. Will you be able to get LEDs in them? If not, will you replace or just use lots of electricity?
On my mind because I’m an electrician and also, my parish is currently looking at replacing its lights. Those ones are ugly anyway though.
All looks nice. Especially fun that Athena’s congregation is still there.
Is that part of a pipe organ under the plastic? Wow!
Huge project! Wishing you all the best.
Is that the congregation for the First Church of Totoro (Scientifictionist)? And if so…
Who’s in charge of the offertory?
The place is looking beautiful, I’m loving those floors. I’d love to be able to visit on a public day in the future, and check out the work you’d had done.
Man, Scalzi. You and your family are such nice people. Hope that everything turns out ok with “The Old Church”.
That none of the things in that Tom Hank’s movie happens to you.
(Don’t remember the original name, here in Brazil It was translated something as “One day the house falls apart” – I looked out: The original name was “The Money Pit”).
It looks very nice. A good place for house concerts.
So. Many. SQUISHMALLOWS!!!!!!!
Congratulations on all the progress. You wouldn’t happen to be helping out the local history of the town by documenting all the stories you’re getting, would you? Just thought I’d ask.
(local historian in my town)
No squishmallow pictures?
Holding on to your older vehicles is probably for the best.
Thanks for the update, it’s looking good!
And it’s very pleasing that you’re supporting a local cabinet maker by having bookshelves made.
Slightly surprised the local community haven’t started calling it “St. Scalzi’s” yet.
Buildings with history are very interesting. A friend of mine bought a house built in 1435.
Dozens of new friendships were created instantly just by telling that they would be living in “that house”. They moved to a new town, but have a joint topic with everyone living there already.
Echoing Steve Minniear above about preserving the church stories in some form or fashion. Irreplaceable sources for local history!
Scalzi soon after buying the church:
“We paid more than [$1 referenced in a comment], and the building is actually in good shape. The repairs we have to make are relatively minor, and the renovations largely cosmetic.”
Scalzi not quite 18 months later:
“When we first looked at the place, Krissy, whose job it is to evaluate structures, said that the bones of the building were good but everything else needed work, and she wasn’t wrong about any of that. … But still, whooooo. Not cheap! And we still have some very not cheap things to get through.”
There’s not necessarily a contradiction, but there’s just a teeny tiny change in tone.
I wonder if any local AA or other 12 step groups are looking for meeting/dance/etc space. Not that they could pay market rates.
I’m pretty sure at the time I misunderstood what Krissy was saying to me about the nature of the renovations that we would need, as in “Oh, replace the roof? We did that at the house, seemed minor at the time, I’m sure it’ll be the same here.” Reader, it wasn’t, nor for that matter was it when we did it at the house, I just wasn’t in charge of it or paying attention to how much it cost. So, yeah, that’s on me.
Have you mentioned plans for the organ?
There is an old organ, right?
These community events, will music-making be involved?
The congregation looks very plush. But do they open their wallets for the collection?
Taking a building which is well-loved in the community but in danger of decay, if not outright demolition, and refurbishing it into a useful space? That’s super-cool.
The congregation needs more duckies tho’. Just sayin’.
Thanks for the update, I enjoy renovation. And it always takes at least 3 times longer and costs 3 times as much as your careful budget allowed for. Another thought struck me, the new office. Does this mean no more bathrobe writing at home? Not that it’s my business how you conduct yours, but the thought of you having to turn into a commuter and lose the peaceful vista mentioned earlier… or maybe the office is for just business and not writing.
Great stuff you’re doing!
Not cheap… eh? Life isn’t cheap. If you can do it, more the better: building something fine to hand on as legacy when you’re gone is worth the costs and effort.
I do the same thing on a much smaller scale with clocks, watches, cars, etc. The reward is that what’s finished in the end is something beautiful, and that beauty can be shared and passed on when it is appropriate.
Keep on going! :D
I’m currently rehab/remodeling a small 80-year-old house for my daughter, so this is all very, very familiar.
Contractors are still busy, materials are still too expensive, and everything takes far longer than you wish it would. But it will be worth it, and I hope someone gets to go full E. Power Biggs on that organ someday.
(Knob and tube wiring? Oof. At least we only had to deal with the dreaded Federal Pacific electric panel, and can bring the wiring up to current code in stages.)
How high is the ceiling in the third picture? I’m guessing 12 feet, but I could be wrong.
Great floor there, too.
is it safe to assume if there is a wedding for Athena, it will be at The Old Church?
Too late for reader request week but would love to hear how having an office will affect how you approach writing there versus writing at home where for years you have posted not wearing pants as a major life benefit.
Very nice. Gorgeous woodwork. Wow.
Is that a curtain for your office alcove? The Wizard of Bradford! Ignore that man behind the curtain! Lol.
Above: I just wasn’t in charge of it or paying attention to how much it cost.
You may have mentioned here on Whatever — just once or twice — that Krissy is the eagle-eyed financial manager at Scalzi Enterprises. Good quality to have in a chief executive!
I’m still trying to get my wife to let me buy an old Masonic Temple and start my own secret society, but she still says no. So just a new screened-in porch on part of the rear deck for now (and she won’t even let me decorate it as a Tiki lounge, bummer).
My mom sent me this because, haha, I just bought an 80-year-old church in small town Ohio a couple months ago and am also in the middle of renovations, while living here. It was nice to read about your progress and commiserate. I am also replacing a retaining wall and old wiring and various structural and plumbing adventures. Not cheap!
But also, how cool is it to be able to make it wholly my own, wholly unique, and yes also, I know people who were married here. People walk by and tell me their memories of the church days. I have a historical book of the town with photos of the church and it’s history. It’s just so very neat to be in a place in my life where I get to do this.
I wonder how many small town church to home renovators there are in Ohio right now? Maybe we need a support group for our questionable life choices =]
Your books almost always give me good feels. So do your posts, especially this one. Thanks!
I’m sure the locals appreciate the very nice attitude toward feeling like stewards of a place to which many of them have memories tied. Good on ya.
First thought on seeing that high-angle photo (and before reading David Hajicek’s comment): What a great space for concerts. We have a folk music society and a chamber music society, and both make good use of churches. (I’ll be working a folk concert in a church tonight.) If your neck of the Ohio woods doesn’t have a music-booking non-profit, it ought to gin one up at once. (An operational pipe organ makes it even more appealing.)
My professional, day-job ears pricked up at Scalzi Family Foundation (and went back down; my day job almost certainly isn’t in your field of interest)(and neither is my night job). Very glad to hear of someone who pays their taxes gladly AND wants to do the philanthropic thing.
So, once the refurb is done, are you going to be offering church tours? I’d kinda like to make a stop at the Church of Scalzi on the way out to a West Coast visit one of these years…
Nice work so far.
And now we see why you bought the building: a new space was needed for the Squishmallow collection…
Tis a fine thing you do. I wish I lived nearby so I could come to the open house.