NEW ALBANY — What was initially labeled as a positive project to preserve the city’s history again became the subject of a debate Tuesday.
The ongoing project to rehabilitate Second Baptist Church was again brought before the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety.
Last month, Building Commissioner David Brewer issued a cease-work order for construction on the historic structure after he declared organizers of the project failed to receive permission before removing clock faces from the Main Street church.
Known as the Town Clock Church, the building served as a link in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War era.
According to Brewer, the main reason he hadn’t approved the work was because the contractor for the project, DM Masonry, wasn’t properly licensed for what he dubbed as commercial work.
Irv Stumler — a former mayoral candidate and a leader in the group Friends of the Town Clock Church — has said he doesn’t agree with Brewer’s assessment that DM Masonry is required to obtain such a license.
DM Masonry President Frank Delbridge said he’s scheduled to take the test for the license on Friday, though he may not need the certification as Padgett Inc. has agreed to serve as the primary contractor on the project.
Padgett — which is licensed for commercial work — would allow DM Masonry to work as a subcontractor, and would cover the construction with its insurance.
However Stumler again expressed his disappointment with the delays in the project, saying he has been in constant contact with Brewer, yet the order to commence work still hasn’t been issued.
Board of works President Warren Nash said the license and order to start construction have to come from the administrative wing, but he added he understood there were some safety concerns that were delaying the project.
“Tell us what’s been unsafe,” Stumler asked.
He wasn’t given a direct answer, and later requested Brewer join the meeting to explain where the project stands.
Brewer didn’t attend the meeting, but in a phone interview with the News and Tribune on Tuesday, he said construction could start soon but only after he’s allowed to inspect the site, garner more information about the scope of work in the current phase and ensure Padgett has all of its licenses up-to-date.
The administration wants the project to be successful, but Brewer said his job is to ensure all contractors are following city code.
“We have to do it the right way and follow the ordinances of the city so that everybody is protected,” Brewer said.
The city stands to be a partner in the project, as the New Albany City Council has agreed to foot $75,000 of the estimated $400,000 cost for the rehabilitation work.
The Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County has also agreed to help fund the project, and private donations are being sought by Friends of the Town Clock Church.
However Councilman Dan Coffey, who appeared before the board of works Tuesday, questioned how sound the leadership of the organization is when it comes to overseeing construction.
“The fact of the matter is, they don’t have the money” to complete the project, he said. “The funding they have now won’t even begin to fix the problem.”
Coffey suggested a city body such as the redevelopment commission or board of works be charged with managing the project.
He added the council and city are willing to consider more funding for the project. Members of Second Baptist Church including Rev. LeRoy Marshall attended the meeting with Stumler.
Coffey directed some of his comments toward the members, as he said he didn’t want them to be in the middle of a “political” showdown.
“We’re not comfortable with working with the way it’s being led now,” Coffey said to the members.
He added Mayor Jeff Gahan also has concerns about the management of the project, but Gahan wasn’t present during the meeting.
No one from the administration addressed the issue of switching leadership for the project either.
In response to Coffey’s comments, Stumler said he disagreed “with almost every word” the councilman said.
“We don’t need the city’s money to continue on” with the current phase of work, Stumler said.
The $75,000 will be needed by the end of the project, he continued, as he added volunteers are actively seeking private donations to help match funds that have already been committed.
Stumler was defeated by Gahan during the 2011 Democratic primary. Nash told Stumler city leaders just want to make sure the work is completed properly.
“Maybe there’s a fine line there, maybe there’s no line at all,” Stumler responded.