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Renovations underway at cultural center

Jodi Summit
Posted 12/6/18

TOWER— Renovation work at the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center (LVCC) building on Tower’s Main Street is underway once again, thanks to a $268,000 grant from the IRRRB.

The LVCC board spent the …

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Renovations underway at cultural center

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TOWER— Renovation work at the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center (LVCC) building on Tower’s Main Street is underway once again, thanks to a $268,000 grant from the IRRRB.

The LVCC board spent the last year working with Architectural Resources of Hibbing to develop the detailed plans needed to preserve the historic building, and safely tie the building and roofline into the newly-constructed additions. H & B Limited of Ely is acting as the overseer of the renovation project. When finished, the cultural center will have a full basement, auditorium, lobby, and a third-floor reading room. The center, once completed, will host cultural and community events.

John Bowe, of H & B Limited, has been involved in the renovation project since its very beginning.

“We saw an article in the Timberjay back in 2009 looking for people interested in helping restore the old St. Mary’s Church,” he said. “We had driven by the church that summer and noticed the stained-glass windows. We had gotten out of our car and peeked in. They were great little windows.”

John and his partner Rosemary Shepherd are professional stained-glass restorers.

“At that point we were just curious,” he said. “But we’ve been involved ever since. This is a very worthy project.”

The historic St. Mary’s Church building was moved onto its new foundation on Main Street in 2015, and the additions to the building, which will provide space for a cultural center, were framed in the following year. But since then, progress has slowed while fundraising and logistical details were hammered out.

The project ran into some “hiccups,” Bowe said, due to underlying conditions of the 130-plus year-old building that weren’t apparent until after the church had been moved.

The LVCC board then started working with ARI Architects of Hibbing, to develop a workable plan for the restoration.

“The whole process took longer than we hoped,” said Bowe, “but now it is happening.”

The work, which was awarded to Hammerlund Construction of Grand Rapids, includes stabilization of the building, accessibility work, new footings and foundation walls, floor and stairway framing, exterior wall and roof sheathing, work on the bearing walls, roof joists and rafters, new exterior building wrap, construction of the cupola, and the remainder of the interior wall framing.

As some may have noticed, the work also includes some “strategic” demolition, to address code and accessibility issues.

Bowe said the cement and foundation work should be completed soon, and then the exterior of the building will be closed in. Interior carpentry work will continue through the winter.

“Hammerlund is doing a great job,” said Bowe.

This phase of the project does not include shingles and the completion of the roof.

“The board had hoped the generous grant from the IRRR would cover the roof cost as well,” said board member Elaine McGillivray. “The reality is, with any restoration project, the costs to bring an old building up to code, and in this case meld the old St. Mary’s building with new construction, was higher than expected.”

LVCC has already received some generous private donations to help with Phase 1 of the project (as well as work done previously) and is now seeking donations to help with Phase 2, which will include completing the roof, siding, and entrances.

The restoration of the 17 stained glass windows continues. Bowe said about two-thirds are already restored and in newly-built frames.

“The stained-glass windows are the gems of this project,” he said. “They are a great example of stained-glass of that era. We haven’t been able to find who designed them, but they appear to have been installed at the same time the building was constructed, over 130 years ago.”

Bowe said the windows were in pretty good condition, considering their age. “There was just typical wear and tear, and material deterioration from age,” he said. The restoration process includes taking all of the stained glass pieces apart and reassembling them, replacing pieces of glass as needed. Each window is also being built into a new wooden frame. Most of the windows will be reinstalled in their original location, except for some on the wall of the building that is now an interior wall. Those windows will be relocated in the new part of the building. Bowe is also working to restore the original millwork. The restored windows, millwork, and new fishtail siding will all be installed once the exterior construction work is completed.

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