One eye to the sky

Caution tape forms a perimeter around St. Thomas church in Coeur d'Alene on Friday. Some of the tiles adorning the steeple of the church have fallen off and the area has been temporarily barricaded as a safety precaution due to falling debris.

A Coeur d'Alene church is looking at a more than $170,000 pricetag to address tiles falling from the steeple exterior, which city and fire district officials have deemed a safety hazard for passersby.

The streets by St. Thomas Catholic Church were cordoned off this week, after officials deemed that people could be struck by tiles dislodging from the 170-foot-high steeple.

"They're up there pretty high, and made out of cement," said Glenn Lauper, deputy chief with the Coeur d'Alene Fire District. "They're fairly thin, so they could sail through the air."

The city fielded a concerned call about the issue on Wednesday, Lauper said, after which he and a city building inspector evaluated potential hazards at the church at 919 E. Indiana Ave.

One of the tiles, which are a foot wide and long and a quarter-inch thick, was found in the street, Lauper said.

Noting the costumed children and parents across the street at Sorensen Magnet School, Lauper called the city police to help close the streets and direct families out after school.

"Children were outside playing. There was a certain urgency in getting this under control," Lauper said.

It was a surprise for the church, said Father William Crowley, adding that only one or two tiles have been noticed missing since the summer.

"They descended on us like a flock of vultures," Crowley said of the different agencies.

Lauper issued the church a notice of violation for unsafe conditions, structural hazards and abatement.

"I described to them the urgency in getting this repaired," Lauper said, adding that Sorensen has been advised to monitor wind activity before letting kids outside.

In the meantime, sections of Indiana Avenue and Ninth Street by the church remain closed. The church's front doors are also closed.

Only the side doors can be used for services and events.

Crowley said he figures the tiles have become loosened with age.

"I think they were the originals. That's 102 years," he said.

The church plans to replace all the tiles, he said.

But doing so takes time.



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The church has to coordinate with the diocese in Boise, he said, as well the church's insurance carrier. A claims agent was out on Friday taking photos.

"We're just really trying, but we're stymied because of the enormity of it," he said. "They have to build scaffolding to completely surround the steeple."

The project is projected to cost $172,000, Crowley said, adding that the church has put out bids.

"It will probably deplete what savings we have, but we can cover it," he said.

Church services won't be affected, Crowley said, though he does worry for older parishioners who will have to park farther away, he said, with the streets blocked off.

"We can't do anything about it," he said. "I need everybody to start praying for an open winter."

There could be potential asbestos exposure during demolition, Lauper noted.

But that simply requires specific demolition precautions, he said. Asbestos doesn't currently create a safety hazard on its own.

City building official Ed Wagner said officials evaluated the rest of the building and found no other concerns.

Although people can still attend events and services at St. Thomas, Lauper advised the public to otherwise avoid the church site until the issue is addressed.

That doesn't necessarily require replacing all tiles, he said.

But Crowley doesn't see another option, he said, expressing concern about the church's substructure.

"I think everything would look sort of, for lack of a better term, crappy, if we just fixed a few things here and there," Crowley said. "I think we've got to go the whole way."

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