Ashland resident Brad Roupp got a heart-wrenching lesson on the role historic buildings play in fostering a sense of community when a tornado ripped through his hometown of Hesston, Kan., destroying his parents&

house and other homes, schools and downtown businesses.



That event 15 years ago led him to turn his attention to the restoration of historic structures that might otherwise be demolished. The Ashland First Congregational Church, where Roupp and his family are members, is the most recent beneficiary of that attention. Roupp spearheaded efforts that began in June 2004 to renovate the structurally unsound 1926 building. Roupp, architect Ray Kistler and the congregation were recognized this month with an Ashland Distinguished Architectural Preservation Award.

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The tornado helped me realize the value of historic places people have a connection to because we lost so many buildings at one time,&

Roupp recalled. &

What I see now in communities is if they lose buildings one at a time, people tend not to recognize the loss until so many buildings have been taken away. Every building we save is an important structure because of the human events that have happened there.&

If any building was a candidate to be torn down, it was the First Congregational Church.

But members pledged $260,000 to renovate the building at 717 Siskiyou Boulevard, although constructing a new church would have cost about the same, according to Roupp.

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It was pretty darn close to being condemned,&

Kistler said.

During an earlier misguided renovation, crews made a vaulted ceiling in the interior, but did so by removing the ceiling joists that stabilized the building. The walls began to visibly bow out. Meanwhile, the roof, flooring, heating system, windows and interior needed replacing.



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The finished exterior of the Ashland First Congregational — Church, remodeled starting in June 2004, includes — a lighter motif.



Submitted photos

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Roupp already knew of the hard work that lay ahead to renovate the building, but in the beginning, people believed at least the foundation was solid. But when digging around the basement, they discovered the crumbling base.



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I was sick. I was nauseous. At that moment I realized what the challenge ahead was,&

Roupp said.

Kistler said if everyone had known the state of the foundation beforehand, they might not have agreed to undertake the renovation in the first place. But with reconstruction already underway, there was no turning back.

Today, the building is fully restored, with only finishing touches remaining in the new kitchen.

A new large foyer painted pale green gives members a place to mingle and come in from the rain, while rows of large windows with elegant white molding line the sanctuary and let in natural light. Overhead, unobtrusive thin steel rods the color of wrought iron stretch across the ceiling to stabilize the walls. Iron wall sconces and overhead lights with white shades accent the sanctuary.

Iron railings, door handles and other hardware with a leaf motif hand-forged by Roupp are installed throughout the church.



— — The building had become unstable before work began.

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A hyrdonic heating system warms the building with radiators, eliminating the transmission of allergens through air ducts, while materials were carefully selected to reduce chemical emissions.



Congregation members are especially thankful to Roupp for volunteering countless hours for the project, said member Marian Harlow, who was enjoying the light-filled interior on a recent weekday while working on a quilting project in the church with friends.

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Brad has just been fantastic. He&

s amazing. Some of the ladies call him the answer to their prayers,&

she said.

After all the changes to restore the building, the wooden pews &

nicked and scratched after decades of use &

still form neat rows in the sanctuary, safely surrounded by the straight walls and sturdy roof.

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It&

s about the only thing we kept &

the old pews,&

Roupp said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 3018 or valdous@dailytidings.com.