The steeple at a historic Belleville church will be braced to keep it from collapsing after Superstorm Sandy caused damage last week, Kevin Esposito, Belleville township manager, said Tuesday afternoon.
He said the structure, which now houses a Spanish-speaking congregation, has to be secured so that Rutgers Street, a state highway thoroughfare, can reopen to allow access to the Belleville-North Arlington Bridge.
"There is another storm, a nor'easter, coming through on Wednesday, and we can't have Rutgers Street closed for a week or 10 days if the steeple collapses," Esposito said.
Belleville police had closeed off Rutgers Street a few blocks west of the bridge Tuesday afternoon. In Belleville, the bridhe could only be accessed from the Main Street side.
Every effort is being made to save the steeple, with a brace of scaffolding being built after a contract was signed earlier today for a company to do the work, Esposito said.
"We will not demolish this structure, and will do everything we can do to preserve it," he said.
The church's current tenant, Iglasenda Antigua, a 65-member church, has no insurance, Esposito said, so the township is stepping in to handle the problem.
Esposito said a contract not to exceed $43,000 has been given to a restoration company to secure the steeple.
"We have every intention to put a lien on the property, and expect a 100 percent reimbursement," he said.
The church's pastor, Miguel Ortiz, could not be reached for comment.
Councilman Kevin Kennedy said, “We have to shore it up, so we are acting today.”
The church was founded in 1697 by Dutch settlers, and then rebuilt three different times, according to officials The churcvh is considered a priceless historical landmark and a link to the township's Revolutionary War past.
What to do with the site had long been an open question, officials said, with past efforts by both the former Dutch Reformed congregation and local officials to get historic-preservation funding proving unsuccessful.
Several years ago, the Dutch Reformed congregation, which was dwindling and elderly, decided they could no longer maintain the property and opted to sell.
The site includes the church, which was rebuilt in the 19th century, and the cemetery, the final resting place for 66 veterans of the Revolutionary War.
The Dutch Reformed congregation sold the property years ago to Iglasenda Antigua for $250,000, officials said.