NWCX Carpentry Class Saves Historic Church
RIDGELY - Communities have often formed around a place of worship, especially in the South, where many small towns have a history of a church being built before the town. That was the origin story given by a congregation member of Cottonwood Grove Baptist Church in Ridgely. It was said the church had been standing for over 60 years, in the place it is now - outside of Ridgely in Lake County, just off Great River Road which hugs the edges of the Mississippi River.
Doug Robertson, a longtime member of the church said he had heard the church was originally built in the 1930s in Hathaway but was later moved to its current location. “This was one of the pioneer churches of our county,” said Robertson. “Without the help of the crew, we would not have been able to save the church,” he recalled.
Robertson is referring to the carpentry class from Northwest Correctional Complex. The students have been working on the building for about a month repairing significant water damage throughout the building and giving it a much-needed facelift. Robertson said the project has cost around $12,000, but with the work coming from the students at NWCX, he realizes the cost could have been significantly greater. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this project without these guys. Every Sunday we walk in and it’s different. The optimism of the congregation grows every week,” said Robertson.
The good work from the carpentry class is being talked about in Lake County according to Robertson. “I’ve been reading about reentry programs such as this one, and it’s not going unnoticed, especially around here. I tell the guys in the coffee shop about what they are doing out here, how they have an opportunity to learn a craft and make their life better,” Robertson said.
Carpentry Instructor, Gary Thomas, said the work being done to the church includes replacing shingles with metal roofing, painting, replacing lights with LED, replacing windows and drywall among other improvement projects. “They had significant water damage and leaks and we are working to repair that. We make sure to get as much done through the week and clean up so they can still come in on Sunday and have church,” Instructor Thomas said.
Instructor Thomas said many of the students have previous experience in construction but are also learning other aspects of carpentry through this project. “The ceiling was painted by a student that had never used a taping knife before and his work looks excellent. Some of the guys working on the project have past experience in construction, though. One of the students has experience working on roofs, one has worked in flooring before and another has worked in the mason trade,” he said.
A student who had a background in painting said although he has helped in painting the building he has helped in other areas too. “I know this is a class, so I am paying more attention to the other work being done out here and picking up on some of the stuff,” he said.
Instructor Thomas has estimated that the work on the church will be completed in approximately another month. “They are doing a great job. We have been out here a month or so already, it’s good to get the guys on different projects so they learn about carpentry with hands-on experience.”