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Mount Holly Springs

Mount Holly council hires firm to design and engineer Mount Tabor restoration project

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Mt.. Tabor Church

A Cumberland County Historical Society marker is in the foreground of the Mount Tabor Church in Mount Holly Springs.

A Northumberland County firm has been hired to do the architectural design and engineering work associated with a future project to preserve and restore the Mount Tabor Church in Mount Holly Springs.

The Mount Holly Springs Borough Council last week approved a $34,000 contract with Strosser Baer Architects LLC of Sunbury, borough secretary/treasurer Sara Jarrett said Tuesday.

The contract is an outgrowth of the Mount Tabor Preservation Project – the grassroots effort to bring back the long-abandoned church on Cedar Avenue that once served as the spiritual hub of a local African-American community. Former congregant Carmen James is president of the group’s board of directors.

Under the contract, the firm will document the condition of the church, run an analysis of what is needed to meet current building codes, prepare a proposal on how best to restore the building and calculate an estimate on total costs, James said. She added one goal is to find ways to salvage and use as much of the original church structure as possible.

In recent months, Preservation Project volunteers approached a number of firms to gauge their interest in providing architectural design and engineering work, according to James. Some were too busy handling a backlog caused by COVID-19 and the lockdown. Other companies were not interested in submitting bid proposals for the job.

Strosser Baer had the lower of the two bids received for the design and engineering phase of the project, James said. However, cost was not the only factor that encouraged volunteers to recommend the council award the $34,000 contract.

“It seems that they care,” James said of the Sunbury firm. “They came out a year ago to look at the building because they had heard about it. They followed up and stayed in touch with us. They liked the project. It was more than just a job.”

The groundwork from the design and engineering phase will develop into bid specifications to distribute to contractors interested in the construction phase of the restoration project, Borough Manager Thomas Day said. He added that since the borough owns the church and its cemetery, it will be up to council members to review and award any future contractor bids.

The borough in early 2020 assumed ownership of the church. Prior to that, the main obstacle to preservation efforts has been a lack of definitive ownership.

History

Mount Tabor Church traces its history back to Elias Parker, a former slave who moved from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Mount Holly Springs after serving with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.

A Baptist minister, Parker was also a mason and carpenter who built the church on Cedar Avenue. The congregation was active until about 1970 when many of the worshipers moved away to follow work.

“It was never a shiny, polished building,” said James, who described the church as being in rough condition back when she attended services. One goal of the restoration project is to bring the building back to its original appearance not only for local tourism, but for use by the community.

“We don’t want to just restore and have it sit there,” she said. “We want it to be a living building.”

Project volunteers have contacted a local pastor who lives near the Mount Tabor Church to inquire whether he would be interested in hosting a Sunday service or Bible study inside the building once the restoration work is completed.

Another initiative is to showcase the relationship between the church, Mount Holly Springs and the South Mountain region. In support of its mission, the Preservation Project has received a number of grants including about $15,000 from the South Mountain Partnership. About $10,000 will go toward the preservation of the building while $5,000 will be used for interpretative signs to be posted at the church and its adjoining cemetery.

The $34,000 contract for design and engineering work will be funded in part by a $25,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and a $4,000 grant from the Henry A. Jordan M.D. Preservation Excellence Fund.

The Preservation Project has received revenue from a number of different sources either to provide a local match to a grant or to support different phases of the restoration work. The sources are as follows:

  • $275,000 in state funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
  • A $10,000 grant from the Louis J. Appell Jr. Preservation Fund for Central Pennsylvania
  • A $775 grant from the Cumberland County Historical Society
  • A $500 grant from Historic Harrisburg

Going forward, the plan is to meet as soon as possible with representatives from Strosser Baer to review the scope of work and the timetable for the architectural design and engineering work.

The hope is to hire a contractor this fall to stabilize the foundation and rebuild the roof before the onset of winter weather, James said. There is concern about the ability of the church to withstand another season of harsh weather.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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