For sale: Historic Albion church

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 January 2014 at 12:00 am

United Methodists don’t have money for building repairs

File photos by Tom Rivers – The First United Methodist Church in Albion, built in 1860, is located at the corner of Platt and East State streets.

ALBION – The congregation at the First United Methodist Church is looking for a buyer for its historic building, a 14,000-square-foot structure built in 1860.

The building at 19 Platt St. needs about $1 million in repairs. Its roof is structurally unsound. The church has used five tall wooden beams to help support the roof since December 2012.

The 30 active families of the church in August voted to abandon the site. The church still uses the site for its services and doesn’t have a time frame for leaving, said Terry Wilbert, chairman of the administrative council.

“We’re thinking sooner rather than later,” Wilbert said.

The congregation five months ago voted to turn the building over to the denomination. In October, denomination officials sent a letter back to Albion saying that the denomination wouldn’t take over the site.

“They didn’t want to set a precedent,” Wilbert said. “They would have 95 other churches behind us.”

The church has been using five wooden beams to help support the roof. The beams were added in December 2012.

Many of the mainline denomination churches have cavernous historic buildings with small congregations that struggle to keep up with the maintenance and bills on the structures.

In 1914, the Albion church reoriented the sanctuary. When that happened, some members didn’t like that lower beams that helped support the roof truss system were more visible. The church removed the lower beams. A century later, the roof is in danger of collapse from a truss system that needs to be totally rebuilt.

The congregation thinks the project will cost too much for the members. So the congregation is looking at three options:

Wilbert said the United Methodist congregation may leave its building and share another church building with an existing church, with the two congregations staggering their worship services.

The United Methodists may decide to acquire land and build a new site that would be smaller, handicapped accessible and have more parking than the current site.

Or the church may acquire an existing building and rehab it. He doubts the church will stay in its current site long-term. But if a big donation comes in for the repairs, Wilbert said the congregation may not go.

“If someone offers us $500,000, we’ll take it and stay,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”

The United Methodist Church building is one of seven churches in Albion that are part of the Historic Courthouse Square, a district named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The church is working with the Landmark Society of Western New York to identify potential buyers for the building. The United Methodists also will reach out to real estate firms to see if they can help find a buyer.

“We don’t know what to ask for it,” Wilbert said. “That’s to be determined.”

The church applied for a $350,000 state grant last year through the Environmental Facilities Corporation, but was denied.  Albion also sought a state grant for Bullard Park improvements but wasn’t approved.

Wilbert said the state is directing more grants to bigger population centers.

“The money is going to ‘the haves,’ the people that already have a lot of money,” he said.

(Editor’s note: I think this building could be turned into a Sacred Sites Discovery Center, a site that would draw tourists to Albion and detail important religious movements in the state’s heritage. I wrote about this on Aug. 28. Click here to see that article.)