BATH — Bath’s Chocolate Church Arts Center, known locally as a hub for live music, theater and art, was awarded a nearly $50,000 grant, which will be used to help rehabilitate the 173-year-old Gothic Revival style church it calls home.

The REvitalizeME sub-grant program was awarded by the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center Program in partnership with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The grant program, funded by the Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grants Program of the National Park Service, supports the rehabilitation of historic properties throughout the state.

William Lederer, executive director of the Chocolate Church said the grant will be used to hire structural engineers and architects to assess the condition of the building, give an estimate on what needs to be done first and how much that will cost so the organization can start fundraising.

While he said he’d like to fix many things, Lederer’s top priority is stabilizing the temperature of the space. Built in 1847, the church is almost entirely uninsulated, which leads to a hefty heating bill and limits the space’s performance season.

“It costs an absolute fortune to heat the place,” said Lederer. “Even if we did really well on a show, we would lose money trying to heat the performance space.”

After the art center’s annual Christmas event, Lederer said the performance space is closed until mid-March to save on heating costs. In December, the nonprofit pays about $1,000 to heat the 200,000 cubic feet of the main performance area.

“People wonder why we run the ceiling fans in November, but we’re trying to push the heat down,” he said.

Lederer said he has considered removing the church’s tower, which is structurally sound but leans slightly, but said it’s take away from the charm of both the building and the city’s skyline. While the idea isn’t off the table, Lederer said removing the 2,000-pound bronze bell that sits in the tower would also be expensive.

Lederer said the building’s leaning tower and chipping paint can be frustrating at times, but said he would never move the arts center to another location.

“Half of our mission is to preserve the space,” said Lederer. “We’re an arts center just as much as we’re a historic preservation organization. We’re the custodians of this amazing place and we owe so much to the building in terms of the love people in the community have for it.”

Lederer said he doesn’t know when the repairs will take place, but said the extensive project will be done “sometime in the next decade” after the assessment takes place.

“The Chocolate Church is being responsible by stepping back and looking at what the next 10 years of work is going to look like,” said Anne Ball, Maine Downtown Center program director. “They’re being good stewards of their building, which is so unique. It’s a beautiful building in the Gothic Revival style that people come to Bath to see.”

The other awards were given to the Norway Opera House in Norway, Seven Island Avenue in Skowhegan, the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft, the Peavey Memorial Library in Eastport and to Johnson Hall in Gardiner. Together, the program awarded more than $640,000 in grants.

Ball said the grants are meant to give a project a helping hand rather than pay for a building’s entire renovation.

“It’s so expensive to keep these buildings going, but this is a boost to a lifelong commitment,” said Ball. “For these six projects, this grant keeps the heartbeat of these communities alive because many of them are hubs of art and gathering places for the communities in so many ways.”

Kirk Mohney, Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said he knows the Chocolate Church has struggled financially in the past but hopes the grant allows the nonprofit to make plans for what’s to come.

“The organizations that are the stewards of these buildings are committed to them, and that’s essential to the preservation of these buildings,” said Mohney. “It’s expensive, but over time they last and are durable. These buildings are part of what makes these towns worth visiting.”

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