Independent Presbyterian Church Steeple Repair Project Summary Rives E. Worrell Co., a JE Dunn Construction Company, completed 22 stories of steeple repairs for Independent Presbyterian Church. The project began in March 2014 and included scaffolding around the entire steeple, prevention of water intrusion, restoration of the four clocks on the steeple, complete repair and restoration of the cast iron steel, removal of existing paint to the bare metal, applying a rust prohibiter and new epoxy coatings. In addition, the firm provided partial replacement of mortar, re-grouting of the stone, and the entire steeple was primed, caulked and re-painted. Constructing the right team of partners who had extensive experience in scaffolding and restoration work for this project was critical for the project to be completed on time in August 2014.
To achieve this renovation, six different companies contributed over 9,112 man hours. The vast majority of these hours were conducted on scaffolding that surrounded the steeple. The scaffolding that towered over downtown Savannah consisted of about 4,500 pieces that in total weighed just over 70,000 pounds.
After the scaffolding was erected, the first task was to remove the existing paint from the structure. A paint stripper was applied to the structure to make the removal of the existing paint more efficient. However, the workers discovered that one application of the paint stripper was not adequate. Multiple applications of the paint stripper, followed by extensive hand grinding in some areas, was required. To complete this extremely labor-intensive task, 330 gallons of paint stripper was used.
When the old paint was removed, workers discovered many unforeseen conditions such as major cracks and broken pieces of cast iron. A significant amount of welding was required to repair the structure and new casts had to be created to replace the missing ornamental components. Once each item was discovered, it was evaluated to determine the best possible solution to repair it. Specialty welders were used to re-attach the broken pieces and a special epoxy was used to bond and fill cracks on the structure. These repairs were expertly evaluated and handled to help keep the steeple’s original design and structural strength intact. Once each area was evaluated and checked for quality assurance, the exposed cast iron was primed, caulked and re-painted. Although many unforeseen conditions were discovered during the life of the project, it was still completed on time and within budget.
To increase the steeple’s life span, a rust prohibiter was used to coat the cast iron. Approximately 26 gallons of primer and caulk helped seal the steeple from the outdoor elements. Once covered with 73 gallons of paint, the steeple became not only a beautiful sight, but was further protected from rust and deterioration.
Overcoming the challenges of high winds required additional safety precautions. Rives E. Worrell Co. installed protective mesh at all levels to catch any falling debris, not only from the structure itself, but also any tools or supplies from the scaffolding. All workers were secured by safety harnesses and lanyards while work was being performed. Despite our best efforts, there were three days during the project that work could not be performed due to high winds in the area. In addition to the safety of the workers, safety of students, parishioners, and tourists was of utmost importance. The scaffolding was built in a manner that allowed the church to continue its scheduled services and activities without any interruptions, and the entire project was completed with zero accidents.
In addition to serving as the home of a very active congregation that is a vital asset in our community, the Independent Presbyterian Church is one of Savannah’s most high-profile tourist attractions. Every one of the City’s many trolley tours stops here. This renovation ensures the church will continue to attract not only tourists, but also church members, by expanding the life of this historic monument well into the future. The top of the steeple also acts as an important landmark to orient people to their surroundings and showing them the exact location of both the institution and Bull Street.
Savannah’s Independent Presbyterian Church, organized in 1755, is known as the mother church of Georgia’s Presbyterians. Designed by Rhode Island architect John Holden Greene in the English restoration style, this grand church ranked among the finest American buildings of its day. Built in 1817, with granite shipped from the famous quarries at Quincy, Massachusetts, it is still considered one of Savannah's most notable buildings.
Of more recent note, this landmark structure was seen in the opening of the movie "Forest Gump." The white feather falling from the sky passes by the tall steeple of the Independent Presbyterian Church.
The church remains a source of community pride and invokes a sense of shared responsibility to preserve it. Independent Presbyterian Church has a history of building in a way that affirms continuity, tradition and harmony with its 4-building campus, as well as within the historic district of Savannah.