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Bell tower revamp in full swing

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Workmen are hoping not to set the alarm bells ringing at St John's Anglican Church.

The team renovating the Pembroke church have been given the delicate task of removing one part of the historical tower — while carefully avoiding damaging the adjacent five-tonne brass bell assembly.

“The tricky part of the whole operation is safely demolishing the existing concrete slabs and removing the existing steel beams without damaging the very heavy arrangement of bells,” Kelly Harris, professional engineer with Mason and Associates Ltd, told The Royal Gazette.

“Right now they are in the upper section of the tower. What we were doing is replacing a platform below and above the bell assembly, so we're quite close to the bells.

“The bells that are in there are quite old. We certainly don't want to do any damage to them so we're working around it. We're just making sure that we protect. It's a tight space to actually work in.”

He added that working on any historical building “you just have to be careful because you're never sure what's on the inside of it”.

“It's just a matter of being careful and to not disturb the structure as much as possible.”

Renovations on the church started at the beginning of January. Despite high winds and rain last month, work is going well and is expected to be completed ahead of the Easter holiday.

Mason and Associates structural engineers were engaged to assess the integrity of the tower — erected in 1835 — and to find solutions to strengthen the structure without disturbing the bell arrangement.

“The steel had eroded and that's what prompted us to get involved,” Mr Harris, who is overseeing the demolition of the existing slabs and steel support system, said.

“The stone tower, despite having a concrete roof, is quite exposed to the elements and over time the existing steel and concrete arrangement for the two intermediate platform slabs was showing significant corrosion. We felt the tower platforms had deteriorated to the point where it had become unsafe to access. We didn't want people going up to the bells at all if possible.”

Mr Harris explained that general contractors Sunrise Construction are replacing the corroded steel beams and concrete platforms with lightweight fibreglass I-beams and slip-resistant decking material.

“Fibre Reinforced Plastic beams and decking provided the ideal maintenance-free solution for the church,” he said, adding that the beams are as strong as steel, but much lighter.

“Two men can easily manhandle a 16ft beam into place without cumbersome cranes and hoists,” he added.

Sunrise Construction Ltd is now working on forming a new concrete slab roof and will be installing new windows.

A wooden church was first erected on the site in 1621, and was originally known as the Spanish Point Church.

It was rebuilt in 1721 following a fire, and again in 1835 to support a growing congregation.

Tricky part: safely removing the existing steel beams has proved challenging (Photograph supplied)
Delicate task: one part of the historical tower needs to be removed, while carefully avoiding damaging the adjacent five-tonne brass bell assembly (Photograph supplied)
Needing protection: the bells in the tower are quite old and are unsafe to access (Photograph supplied)

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Published March 11, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated March 11, 2017 at 12:25 am)

Bell tower revamp in full swing

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