- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) - The church that sits high above Augusta Street was covered up and a mystery to all those who passed by for nearly a year.

The scaffolding is down and, as of last week, most of the white sheets that covered the large Staunton church had been removed. Exterior renovations for Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church are almost at a close.

The $3.2 million renovation took the church exterior apart, stone by stone. The church funded the project with a capital campaign and a loan. The Rev. Joseph Wamala said a crew came out and laser-scanned the entire church to number each stone and ensure they were replicated exactly.

“It was quite an intricate process,” he said. “They knew exactly where the stone was taken from and where it’d go back.”

Not many construction crews wanted to take it on, Wamala said. Many found it intimidating to take the entire exterior structure apart. The one who was up for the challenge was Lantz Construction Co., with Rugo Stone and WDP Associates.

“They were very key in this process,” Wamala said. “If they hadn’t done such a great job, we wouldn’t have what we have right now.”

The lengthy process was undertaken in sections to ensure accuracy in the scans.

“It was pretty accurate,” Wamala said. “So they replicated it as it looked.”

Many had the misconception that the building was just being cleaned, Wamala said.

Crews removed the 125-year-old green serpentine stone. Wamala said parishioners took the stones home and the broken pieces had to be tossed.

“They wanted a bit of the church,” he said.

The remaining original stone will be turned into a memorial to the original church.

The decision came to rebuild once the congregation realized the foundation of the church was crumbling. Pieces were falling apart, and Wamala said he couldn’t risk anyone getting hurt.

“We decided to take on this project not only to make this church beautiful but to make it safer for the parishioners,” he said. “One of the reasons we did such a detailed renovation was to keep the character of the church.

“This church was built by Irish immigrants, and we wanted it to be true to their spirit,” Wamala added. “One of the things we didn’t want to change was the character of the church.”

Wamala didn’t want to do just small fixes to address structural problems for the time being. He thought by investing the time and money to do a complete overhaul would mean less fixes down the road.

The green serpentine stone was replaced with green granite. Wamala said the exact serpentine that was originally used in the building isn’t quarried anymore.

Along with the exterior of the building being replaced, the inner brick wall between the exterior wall and the interior church wall was reinforced and crumbled pieces were replaced.

Windows were restored and stained glass was added. Copper finials - the tips at the top corners along the church - were added where concrete ones were previously.

The renovations did not disrupt services. Wamala said he didn’t want to move the congregation and end up losing people, so the crew would break at lunch to enable afternoon mass.

The rededication of the church will be May 8.

“We are glad and happy we have reached this far and nearing completion,” he said. “It was indeed a mystery, since the whole place was wrapped up and covered in scaffolding. Each time the scaffolding was pulled down (the parishioners) have been amazed.”

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Information from: The News Leader, http://www.newsleader.com

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