The iconic bell tower at Deering Center Community Church has been temporarily wrapped to prevent further decay, but that is only a temporary solution for the failing structure. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The bell tower at Deering Center Community Church has historically been used to alert the congregation that service was about to begin or that a special event, such as a wedding, had happened. For years, however, the bells have not harkened with those notices due to the condition of the bell tower.

Recently the church bell tower, located at 4 Brentwood St., was professionally wrapped to keep much of the rain and moisture out over the fall and winter. But church elder Tim DiPaolo knows this is just a temporary solution.

“The weather has really deteriorated the substructure of areas that are already failing,” DiPaolo said. “This is going to protect us at least through the winter.”

Senior Pastor Don Drake said the cement that was used for the stones was not the proper type, and because of that moisture has seeped in, causing the stones to deteriorate and fall beginning in spring 2016.

“We need to get the repairs done to continue functioning as a church because (the bell tower) is integral to our overall building,” Drake said.

Drake said he intends to start a capital campaign in the new year to raise funds to replace the bell tower, a project that could cost upwards of $1.4 million. DiPaolo said the hope is to start the work in 2021.

“It is a daunting task,” Drake said of his congregation’s ability to afford such a project.

Grant funding for the work from the National Fund for Sacred Places, which awards matching grants up to $250,000 to help preserve historic places of worship, is possible. The church had applied in the past, but was turned down, Drake said, because there were other churches in greater need.

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The church, designed by prominent Bangor architect Victor Hodgins, was completed in 1907. It was originally called Dunn Memorial Church, but was renamed Central Square Baptist Church and eventually Deering Center Community Church.

DiPaolo and Drake said restoring the bell tower is not just important to members of the church, but residents in the neighborhood as well. Greater Portland Landmarks placed the church on its 2017 list of Places in Peril.

The goal, Drake said, is to keep the church as open to the Deering community as possible. Drake is working with staff from Deering High School to start up a teen drop-in center there in October or November, and beginning this school year will be providing a space for Longfellow School’s after-school program. The church also hosts Cooking Matters, a Good Shepherd Food Bank program that teaches teens meal preparation and how to eat healthy, as well as other community events.

“The neighborhood has indicated this is a significant cornerstone of the neighborhood and would hate to see it gone,” DiPaolo said.

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