November 29, 2021

Bringing back the bell

Center for the Arts undergoing needed renovations

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Ty Marshal, executive director for the Center for the Arts of Homer, stands outside of the building Monday showing water damage to the brick facade. Work is ongoing at the center to repair older portions of the building, including the bell tower.

In 1874, Clinton H. Meneely of Troy created the bell that would come to sit upon the belfry at the First Baptist Church of Homer — now the Center for the Arts of Homer. The bell has remained silent for years, but a plan to get it ringing again is already under way.

“We’re starting at the bottom and working our way up,” center Executive Director Ty Marshal said Monday.

Marshal said water damage and other issues with the belfry made using the bell a safety concern. Marshal said it had not been used since the center took control in 2005. Water has been dripping off the roof, getting behind the brick and when it gets cold Marshal said the water freezes then expands, pushing the bricks out. Repairs are being made to the belfry to abate the water issues and “will be done whenever it stops raining.”

The next step of the belfry project will be scraping and painting the former church entryway, just underneath the belfry where water leaks caused unsightly damage. Repairs to the entranceway stairs to the entrance way and replacing the railing are planned.

Marshal also has a request for proposals out to get an exterminator into the tower to get rid of bat guano that has been up there over the years. Once that is finished new bird and bat netting will be put up to keep the animals out.

“That’s something we’re hoping to achieve by the end of summer,” Marshal said.

From there an engineer will be called in to assess damage to the belfry floor and determine how to hang the bell once again.

“Nothing is easy when you’re talking about a building from 1893,” Marshal said. “We want to make sure we’re doing it properly. If we had let it go any longer we would have found more damage.”

Marshal is trying to ensure aesthetics, historical value and safety. So far, Marshal said everything is on schedule and no other issues have been found. The belfry refurbishment will cost from $39,000 to $42,000. The J.M. McDonald Foundation, private donor David Lee and family and other local donations are covering the costs.

Once the bell is ready to be put in, it will be a hand-pulled system. People who donate $500 or more can become part of the bell-ringing society and will have the opportunity to ring the bell for specific events, which could include weddings or the opening of shows.

“It’s a beautiful sound and tone,” Marshal said. “Because it’s an antique we want it to be used wisely. We’re in the middle of a neighborhood so we’re very cognizant of what we do.”

Once the bell is up, Marshal said the center will also be able to take part in the annual Ringing of the Bells, which typically takes place on Independence Day the Homer Village Green.

“Redoing the bell tower and having that potentially play a role adds more to this intimate venue you’re seeing people play in it,” said Meghan Lawton executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The center is also in the beginning phases of repairing the parking lots, expected to cost $80,000 to $100,000.

“I don’t know the last time the parking lot was done,” Marshal said. “I believe the parking lot shows the health of organization and ours doesn’t show the health of our organization.”

It’s also a safety concern. Marshal said the building is used seven days a week by dancers who practice and take classes in the building, musicians or people who work in the business portion of the organization.

“Parking is a premium over there,” Lawton said. “I think it just add to the total package of a visitor’s experience.”

Marshal hopes to reduce the cost by getting businesses to donate the use of their equipment. The center’s board is also raffling off items, with all the money going to the parking lot project. Recently, they raffled off a 1929 Thompson rowboat donated by Don Richards of Complete Construction Concepts. Next is a raffle of a Telecaster guitar is signed by musicians who visited the organization this past spring.

The Cortland Breakfast Rotary, which uses one of the rooms at the organization to meet weekly, has also chosen the organization as the recipient of its annual Ride for Rotary fundraiser.

None of it would be possible without the community though, Marshal said, noting the organization hasn’t received any state or federal grants.

“The amount of support has been overwhelming,” Marshal said. “I think it will be a benefit in the end.”