Union Church and Historical Society Home in Durham

Durham’s Union Church, a town-owned building housing the Durham Historical Society, has failed an inspection conducted by the Office of State Fire Marshal. The inspection exposed structural problems that the society has been documenting since 2001. The building’s closure has not only impacted the historical society’s activities but also highlighted long-standing issues of deferred maintenance.

Failed Inspection Details:

The Union Church, situated at 744 Royalsborough Road, failed an inspection by the Office of State Fire Marshal. The findings of the inspection prompted the town to close the building until further notice. The historical society, which has been using the church as its headquarters since 1984, is now unable to access the premises.

Structural Concerns:

Members of the Durham Historical Society have identified significant structural problems with the building, particularly concerning the rotting foundation sill in the back right corner. This deterioration poses a safety hazard, leading to the decision to close the building to all except essential personnel.

Immediate Actions Taken:

The town officials, including Town Manager Jerry Douglass and Fire Chief Robert Tripp, will be the only individuals allowed access to the building. The decision to bring in a second-party structural engineer to inspect the building further before reopening was discussed during town meetings.

Impact on Historical Society:

The news of the building’s closure came at a crucial time for the Durham Historical Society, which had been preparing for an open house event in September. The society had invested significant effort into curating exhibits, cataloging collections, and planning historical displays within the church.

Deferred Maintenance Issue:

Beyond the immediate inspection failure, the Union Church’s problems highlight a longstanding concern of deferred maintenance. Structural issues, particularly related to the foundation sills, have been known since 2001. Despite inspections and efforts to allocate funds for repairs, the building’s deteriorating condition underscores the challenges of addressing deferred maintenance effectively.

Discussion of Solutions:

During town meetings, members of the town board and historical society engaged in discussions about the way forward. The Historical Preservation Commission emphasized the need to address the building’s disrepair, suggesting that the town ordinance might necessitate action due to the building’s historic significance.

Balancing Priorities:

The challenge of prioritizing repairs and maintenance for historic buildings within budget constraints was also discussed. Selectmen acknowledged the frustration of historical society members and stressed the board’s willingness to address the issue. The town’s efforts to balance various priorities, including emergency services and historic preservation, were also highlighted.

Moving Forward:

The Union Church’s inspection failure serves as a call to action for addressing both immediate safety concerns and the broader issue of deferred maintenance. As discussions continue, there is a recognition of the need to find effective solutions that uphold the town’s historical heritage while balancing present priorities and budget constraints.