Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Home gets a boost, and a new life

Church saves 104-year-old building from demolition

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Drivers through Olde Towne Gaithersburg may be surprised to see a 104-year-old home on stilts.

The building, owned by Grace United Methodist Church and located at the corner of Frederick and Walker avenues, was once home to prominent Gaithersburg families and is being renovated.

"The magic of this whole thing was in … watching this happen," said Jim Eakin, project coordinator and a church trustee. "The raising of the house and having these people come in, it's amazing how they do it."

The house, where the Briggs, Phoebus and Smith families once lived, was built on loose red clay, stone and dirt and had no proper basement, Eakin said. It was donated to the church in the 1950s and a partial basement was installed. But the building still lacked a foundation.

"We found that it was not quite safe," said Eakin. "Our purpose was to make it more usable."

Church trustees reviewed their options and demolition was a possibility, since the church could use more parking spaces, Eakin said. Then city officials and the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee stepped in.

"Certainly saving the building is preferable to demolition," said Gaithersburg Planning Director Lauren Pruss. "The house itself is in good shape, so just preserving the foundation makes sense."

On Aug. 4, Amish-German builders from Redding, Pa., who specialize in raising and moving historic homes arrived to lead the process.

To stabilize the house, an 8-foot-deep basement must be installed. Craftsmen put steel girders underneath the house, then raised it using hydraulic jacks. The building should be up on stilts for about 30 days, Eakin said.

Workers will next install temporary frames and fill them with concrete. A 4-inch slab will be laid as basement floor and the building will be lowered.

"It's quite an exciting thing," Eakin said of the estimated $100,000 renovation, which will be finished in late September and followed by more work remodeling the first floor and second story, where a custodian now lives.