Unity Presbyterian Church can proceed with plans to demolish one part of its campus, while working toward new plans for another.
The historic review board in Fort Mill voted Tuesday to allow the church to proceed with its plans. Unity petitioned the board to demolish Unity Hall and secure the historic sanctuary to await more information on what to do with it. Both decisions are in response to a fire at the church in December.
Unity had to ask the board since its campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jacob Saylor, church administrative officer, said prior to the review board vote Tuesday there are still questions as to how and when the historic sanctuary might re-open.
“Once the Unity Hall building is fully demolished, then we’ll need to go in and put up barriers where windows and doors and hallways will be,” he said. “As that process is completed, then the church will be in a position to work with our consultants, architects and engineers to do a thorough assessment of, what is the condition of the historic sanctuary.”
It likely will be well into next year before assessment of future options for the historic sanctuary begins.
“That question is well down the road,” Saylor said.
Initial focus instead is to clean and secure the site, and prevent any further damage. Demolition of Unity Hall, connected to the historic sanctuary prior to the fire, should start soon.
“We really would like to begin this project in the coming weeks,” Saylor said.
Recovering from the fire has been difficult, he said. Until the historic sanctuary is cleaned and secured, it’s difficult to tell what its future might hold.
“We will not be opening up the historic sanctuary for the congregation or for the public until well after we complete the assessment and make plans for the future,” he said.
While possibilities for re-opening the sanctuary will be evaluated, none are definite.
“We don’t have any firm plans at this point because there’s still so much we do not know about the historic sanctuary,” Saylor said. “We want to make sure that we really do our homework well.”
The church meets in a new sanctuary that opened almost a decade ago. Services continued as of the week after the fire. The historic sanctuary is the fourth in the church’s history, dating back to a 1788 founding. The historic sanctuary opened in 1881.
“That means it’s a special place,” Saylor said. “So we want to be very mindful and as we go through this again, we want to be creative in our thought process. We want to take a look at what are the needs for a large congregation in the 21st century as we begin to think about what could happen there.”
Unity Hall, built in 1938, was a complete loss in the fire. In an email prior to the historic review board vote Tuesday, senior pastor Mark Diehl said cleanup, preservation, demolition, beautification and future facility planning now can follow since the insurance claim has been finalized.
“This meticulous process will lead to removal of dangerous and unsightly ruins and much of the protective fencing, the renewal of an iconic Fort Mill landmark, and a return to community-focused ministry that addresses the needs of the Fort Mill community,” Diehl wrote.