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Duluth proceeding with church restoration project

DULUTH - The Duluth City Council on Monday authorized spending $231,050 for repairs to preserve the exterior and protect the interior of the old Duluth First United Methodist Church building.

The church building formerly occupied the site where the new City Hall has been built and had housed Duluth Masonic Lodge No. 480. The lodge relocated to Ga. Highway 120.

After being moved about two blocks away to Hardy Industrial Boulevard, the church building was temporarily placed on stilts. The city plans to save the structure and use it for community functions.

The council awarded the contract for the exterior work, which includes placing the church building on a permanent foundation, to low bidder Wells General Contractors Inc.

Restoring the church interior could require an additional $250,000 or more.

Councilwoman Marsha Anderson Bomar questioned proceeding with the church project due to the potential cost and other possible historic preservation projects in the city.

"I'd like some input from the Duluth Historical Society to see if they still feel strongly about it," Bomar said.

Mayor Nancy Harris and Councilman Jim Dugan voiced support for the immediate project. The church is "ready for restoration," Harris said. With the building resting on stilts, the church has become "a safety issue," Dugan added.

City Administrator Phil McLemore indicated the council could allocate funds to restore the church interior in the 2009 budget or use future special local option sales tax funds if voters approve continuing the SPLOST program.

Planning Director Cliff Cross suggested the city consider creating a Historic Preservation Commission to facilitate obtaining grant funds. The commission also would review projects and set priorities, he said.

At the conclusion of the discussion, all five council members voted to continue with the church restoration project.

Since the recently completed City Hall on Main Street has new furnishings, the council authorized the city clerk to conduct an on-site silent auction of surplus desks, chairs, shelving and filing cabinets in the old City Hall building on West Lawrenceville Street.

The auction was scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 4. Only cash will accepted, and purchased items must be removed by 5 p.m. April 7. Unsold merchandise will be donated to a charitable organization.