Karen Gallati, left, and Al Alschuler are heading a campaign to fund almost $250,000 in sanctuary roof repairs at the Congregational Church in Cumberland. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — Extensive repairs to the Congregational Church sanctuary roof have cost far more than expected, resulting in a debt large enough to potentially threaten the Cumberland church’s existence.

Now, its membership has launched a fundraising campaign to offset expenses.

The sanctuary has been closed since April, and the repair project should be complete in time for the Sept. 8 retirement of longtime Rev. Diane Bennekemper.

The final cost could be almost $250,000, according to Al Alschuler and Karen Gallati, church members who are heading up the campaign. The church has paid $65,000 through already-available funds and have borrowed the rest.

But shouldering the entirety of that 20-year loan without any community support could prove detrimental to the church. Its insurer determined that since age, wear and tear were to blame, the ceiling’s deterioration was not covered by its policy, Gallati and Alschular said in an interview Aug. 28.

“If we keep that indebtedness … we’re going to have problems with our budget,” Alschuler said. “This is something that potentially threatens the church’s existence. I think we’ll be fine, but … it is an unanticipated expense.”

“Part of the difficulty has been the unknown,” Gallati said. “As with any old structure, once you get into it you find so many more things than you ever anticipated.”

Members started noticing the century-old ceiling sagging last year, and temporary braces were installed to fortify it. Continued deterioration forced the sanctuary’s closure after this year’s Easter service.

Dotens Construction Co. of Freeport, hired to conduct the repairs, removed “several tons” of insulation over the ceiling, according to a church letter to congregants.

The damage was found to be “worse than anybody thought it was,” Alschuler said.

Once the sanctuary was sealed off, scaffolding was erected, on which a 60-by-24-foot work platform has sat. The plaster ceiling was removed, although the tin tiles were numbered so that they could be returned to their proper spots once the work was complete.

The church is home to a variety of concerts, meetings, Christmas celebrations and two nursery schools.

“Yes, it is a church,” Gallati noted. “But it’s really a community building. It’s used by so much of the community; there are very few people … that haven’t been here for one thing or another.”

Funds can be contributed by sending a check to the church at P.O. Box 247, Cumberland ME 04021, and placing “Sanctuary Repair Fund” on the memo line. A gofundme.com campaign, the link for which is listed at cumberlanducc.org, has also just begun; church members hope to at least cut the debt in half.

Susan Novak, the church’s business manager, can be reached at 829-3419 ext. 1 or [email protected] for more information.

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