Carpentry Planning and Carpeting: Initial Discussions

One of the most basic skills, carpentry, remained somewhat allusive. Deciding what to have the carpenter do was contingent on several things: flooring support, pews, alterations to make the nave more friendly for the impaired.

A fortunate benefit of considering use of a lift in the nave during painting electrical work was the requirement to determine the weight-bearing capability of the nave’s floor. We hired engineer Michael Cunningham of Lincoln/Haney Engineers ( to assess the support structure in the undercroft. The study found several beams damaged by Powderpost Beetle rot. Two beams needed replacing; two beams need “sistering.” Good that we found out.

The second task for the carpenter concerned the pews. Do we remove and store them or do they remain in place? As of mid-October, that question remained unanswered. The resolution of the question would determine how to proceed with the electrical work and painting. If we removed the pews, workers could use a scissor lift instead of scaffolding. Scaffolding (or staging) is expensive and requires time to erect. The lift is quicker, easier, and cheaper.  Removing the pews, however, did not appear to be an easy task. Whereas new pews are bolted and/or pinned to floor, ours are nailed – “square” nails, to boot. Moreover, they were to be hand-fitted into the wall (notched). Certainly not new. Would we damage them if they were removed?

To help find answers, we will speak to some older parishioners who might recall what was done in the past regarding the pews (and carpeting, below). If the pews are removed, Moore Painting would touch them up (cleaning, light repair, etc.)

The third task is to make the nave more friendly to the handicapped and the infirm. St.Paul’s nave was designed like many other churches in the 18th and 19th centuries. The seating area, left and right of the center aisle, sits on raised flooring. Attractive maybe, but the resultant lip (about 2.5 inches) is enough to trip the unwary or unable. However, if the work done on the west transept in 2012 is an example, the raised area sits on the supporting beams, as does the center aisle. Photos related to that work (before and after):

If that is indeed the case, lowering the floor would be a major construction job and prohibitively expensive. (If it’s any consolation, we understand that Trinity Church Wall Street has the same problem and is also stumped.) The alternative presented to the carpenter is to lift the center aisle and connect the south (sanctuary) and north (Pleasant St. ) ends to the original floor with a ramp. Again, referring to the west transept, the necessary percentage of climb is very low (fortunately). None of this will impact on the same problem in the east transept. Possible answers there: LED floor lighting, warning signs, and/or knurled flooring to alert users to the hazard.

Finally, there has been a suggestion that we remove the first row of pews closest to the sanctuary. This would open up an area for children, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. Removing a pew is probably easy to do, but merging that floor space with the lower floor adjacent to the altar area might not be easy. No answers, yet.

Also related to the pews is carpeting. The nave has new carpeting at the back, on the center aisle and adjacent to the sanctuary. Carpeting under the pews is at least 20+ years old. Must we remove the pews? Were they removed when the current (red) carpeting was installed? In mid-October, a carpet representative from Capozza Carpeting ( suggested that it would be possible to install carpeting without removing the pews, but labor costs would be higher. Another option would be a new design of “floating” carpet tile. Estimates pending.

An RFP regarding repair to the undercroft beams and work on the pews was prepared and sent to several prospective firms: Frohmiller (too busy), Wally Staples (no reply), Benchmark (too small a job), and Fraser Ruwet who is interested. We might again be dealing with only one bidder which has its risks. Even so. Fraser Ruwet comes with sterling recommendations regarding this work and integrity.