WHEELING, W.Va. — Fire Chief Larry Helms said the former Second Presbyterian Church in Center Wheeling likely will have to be torn down after high winds and rain caused the further collapse of the 158-year-old building.
The church, located at the corner of 20th and Market streets, sustained a partial roof collapse in 2011 and has stood idle ever since. The building is owned by Near Earth Object Foundation, under the direction of Robert Strong. He and co-owner Richard Pollack had hoped to reconstruct the church roof to meet municipal building codes and make other repairs.
The owners were trying to obtain a state preservation grant to complete work on the 1848 building. In 2011, city building inspectors deemed the building safe but in need of repairs.
On Monday, the entire block surrounding the building was blocked off to drivers and pedestrians as bricks littered the sidewalk and Market Street. Much of the damage was to the middle and rear of the building.
Helms and city building inspectors were on scene at daybreak, assessing the situation with the owners.
“I’m recommending an emergency teardown,” Helms said. “It doesn’t look very sturdy, and we’re still experiencing high winds.”
The parking area and back patio of an apartment building in the rear of the church also were littered with debris. A vehicle parked on the lot was struck by falling bricks.
Up until the collapse, motorists routinely parked at meters on the Market Street and 20th Street sides of the building. One onlooker said it was fortunate the collapse did not happen on Sunday morning, as members of other nearby churches regularly park there.
Several workers at the McKinley Center across the street said they believed it was only a matter of time before the building would fall down. One worker said from their building he could see the remains of the church deteriorating more each day.
A high wind warning was in effect for the area when the collapse occurred. A driving rain accompanied the wind, adding to the dangers at the collapse site.
Helms said his department was notified at 4:32 a.m. and responded from fire headquarters, located a half-block away.
“A neighbor heard it and called 911,” Helms said.