A towering work: Indy firm working through November on First Christian’s iconic tower

Scaffolding is being erected so that $3.2 million worth of repair work officially can begin on the iconic, 165-foot First Christian Church tower, long a landmark of Columbus’ small-town structural silhouette.

The church and the tower were the first Modernist buildings in a city that has earned global acclaim for its tall, architectural legacy.

The project, being handled by F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co. of Indianapolis, is designed to be a decades-long solution to the natural weathering and cracking of masonry and partial instability of the Eliel Saarinen creation built in 1942. That’s according to local architect Louis Joyner, who is overseeing the work.

Work is scheduled to be completed by the end of November, with that time frame allowing for weather delays, Joyner said. The scaffolding includes four separate platforms that can move up and down independently on a track on each side of the tower.

Workers also just erected a steel frame inside the building’s top portion known as the clock tower. That frame will keep the top section stable during segments of selective dismantling and restoration at the top.

The scaffolding on the interior and exterior will be complete by the end of the month, Joyner said. He added that the church itself next to the tower is scheduled to remain open during all of the work.

Wilhelm was chosen partly because of its seasoned background and experience, according to project organizers.

“This firm has some of the most experience for this kind of work than anyone else in this area,” Joyner said.

He also said that one advantage of the Wilhelm firm over some others is that they are large enough that, if extra workers are needed months from now for the restoration, the company can provide such an adjustment.

Among its more notable efforts on unrelated projects, Wilhelm built Cummins Inc.’s $30 million global distribution business center in 2017 in Indianapolis. The firm also is currently working on the 295-feet-high Riley Towers apartment complex $7 million brick restoration in downtown Indianapolis.

In the past, its work in Columbus has included everything from the original Courthouse Center Mall in 1973 to parking garages in more recent years.

“They have done a fair amount of work right here in Columbus,” Joyner said.

The designer said that project organizers do not anticipate

“It’s not a really complicated structure,” Joyner said. “It’s simply big, and it needs a lot of restoration work.”

You can still help

The $3.2 million Save Our Tower campaign for First Christian Church’s tower continues and is about $200,000 short of its goal. Donations can be made at saveourtower.org.