For at least the sixth time in 12 years, the Franco-American Heritage Center has scaffolding around a portion of its historic edifice as a local masonry company works to shore up three of the buttresses holding up the building’s distinctive spire.
The work, which began last week and is being partially paid for by a $40,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation—money being matched by private donations—is expected to take another month to complete.
Over $6 million has been raised to renovate the Franco Center since it was purchased from the Catholic Diocese of Portland in 2000. Executive Director Louis Morin estimates that approximately $1.5 million still needs to be raised to fully complete needed structural work to the building.
Construction of the Franco Center, which used to be known as St. Mary’s Church and served mostly French-Canadian immigrants in what became known as Lewiston’s “Little Canada” neighborhood, began in 1907 and was completed in 1927.
“She’s a grand old lady,” said Morin of the Franco Center, “but she’s beginning to show her age. You can easily see when you walk around the building which portions of the facade have been repointed and which still need work.
“The sooner we can finish the repair of the building,” he added, “the sooner we can get out of the historic restoration business and concentrate solely on the arts and preserving our common cultural heritage. We wish we could do it all at once and be done with it, but we’ll do it bit by bit if we must.”
The remaining work includes replacing the cracking cement between the granite blocks, a process known as “repointing,” and preserving the Center’s beautiful stained glass windows, a few of which are starting to buckle under the weight of the lead soldering holding them together.
Due to the immense weight of the spire, the buttresses supporting it are receiving top priority. The money from the Maine Community Foundation comes from funds the MCF distributes specifically to preserve historic church spires in Maine.
When the work, which is being done by Stone Age Masonry of Sabattus, is complete, five of the building’s nine support buttresses will have been repointed. After all the buttresses have been done, the outside walls will be next on the repair list, followed by the stained glass windows.
“At that point,” said Morin, “I’ll be able to move from our ‘must-do’ list to our ‘wish list’ for the inside, like air conditioning so we can stage concerts in the summertime. But first thing’s first.”