A rapidly growing number of people are stepping up efforts to save the historic building that used to house the Old Trinity Church in Caro.
As The Advertiser reported March 15, Caro city officials are turning to the community for help in deciding what to do with a former church building at 102 Joy St. that’s on the National Register of Historic Places — and in “tremendous need of repair.”
Officials want public input for how to handle the estimated $400,000 in repairs needed at the city-owned building. An open house is set for the Caro Municipal Building on April 3 at 6:30 p.m.
The building is currently rented by the Thumb Area Center for the Arts (TACA) — and many who have spent time in the structure say the condition is being severely overstated.
One group called the Citizens to Save the Caro Historical Building has started a Facebook page and plans to hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m., March 28, at the Caro Area District Library in anticipation of the April 3 open house. Discussion will include the potential of buying the building.
“City Council has failed to allocate proper maintenance funds for decades. (The building) is now in terrible disrepair,” a posting on the page reads. “City Council members and the new City Manager have stated on record that TACA doesn’t use the building for much of anything but storage space. In fact, hundreds of people use the building every year.”
The church was built in 1880 to house a congregation organized in 1871. The building was sold in 1934 to the Church of the Nazarene, which occupied the church until 1974. It was added to the National Historic Register in 1975.
A historical marker at the site reads:
“This skillfully designed board and batten Gothic Revival church, first served local Episcopalians in 1880. The congregation had been formed in 1871, the year the town was incorporated. During the 1870s, Caro grew to be a major commerce center for the Thumb Area. By the 1920s, however, church membership dropped and the building was sold to the Nazarenes. In 1974 preservationists saved the church from demolition.”
Local historian Mark Putnam said the public should be involved — and that every effort should be made to save the building.
“The fate of the Old Trinity Church in Caro should be up to the people of the community, however, in reality it will be determined by the council of the city of Caro,” Putnam said.
“It appears that council has decided that the destiny will be demolition of the building. It seems that the cost to restore the structure may approach one-half million dollars, which is just too much as that money may be better spent on a new modern public enterprise or building. This would be in our modern times one of the greatest losses to the historic landscape of downtown Caro.”
Though a few said tearing down the building would be best, many took to social media and expressed agreement with Putnam.
Mary Penn, former TACA Board Member/Executive Director, said TACA has rented the building for nearly 25 years. She said TACA has never been warned of any safety issues.
She is leading efforts to form a nonprofit organization to “take ownership of the building, restore it, and preserve it for years to come.” The topic will be discussed at the March 28 meeting at the Caro Area District Library.
“The effort is moving quickly, mostly in phone conversations,” Penn said Tuesday. “Not much can be said officially until parties are able to meet and iron out the details.”
The group doesn’t have an official name yet.
“We are in the information gathering stage and still need to find out who is willing to commit to the effort,” Penn said. “The idea is solid, but requires a lot of background work. It’s a fast-moving grassroots movement to ensure our community can retain its rich arts and cultural history.”
Penn said anyone with questions should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
TACA rents the building for $3,000 annually, said Ryan Piche, city manager, Caro. The organization is up-to-date on its payments, he said.
Piche said buildings on the National Historic Register can be torn down.
If such buildings are repaired, he said, they have to be brought up to National Historic Register codes, which he said is “quite expensive.”
The topic was discussed at a March 2 Caro capital projects committee, at the last two Caro city council meetings, and at Tuesday’s Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. board meeting.
“The last time we got figures on (repairing the building), it was almost $400,000,” said Mike Henry, council member, Caro city council (and member of the capital projects committee) at the March 6 meeting. “That was 2009 and nothing has improved on it.”
“We have to decide what kind of direction we’re going to move with it,” Henry said.
Henry said issues identified with the building include roof damage, the need to be repainted, and a “sinking” bell tower.
Henry said that the estimated $400,000 in repairs “is a lot of money to stick into a building that is going to continue to need that kind of repair.”
Caro Mayor Joe Greene added that “even after you spend that much money, the use is extremely limited.”
Henry said an open house involving the public was suggested because “historical buildings can be a pretty touchy subject for a lot of people.”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com