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Church: So long uninvited, tiny pests

An exterior renovation of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church's wood structures could keep the termites away for good.

By KIBRET MARKOS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Danger signs warned everyone to keep away from St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, draped for the past two days in a red-and-green tent.

This is the second time Pinellas County's oldest church had to be fumigated in the past 10 years. When the church's exterior renovation is completed as expected in October, it could be the termites that will keep away for good.

Aided by the city's insect-friendly climate, the pests have made a home out of the church's 113-year-old wooden structure. They are part of St. Bartholomew's rich history, which includes closure in the late 1800s for two decades, reopening in the early 1900s, and in 1969 its notable repositioning from 22nd Avenue S between 17th and 18th streets to its present location at 3734 34th St S.

The signs came down Tuesday and St. Bartholomew's was open again this morning. No services were disrupted, although the Rev. Harry Parsell prefers to hold today's service in the parish hall. "Just a precaution. There could be people sensitive (to the pesticide's odor)," he said.

As the tent came off yesterday, it exposed a wooden building with its white paint peeling, a building much less appealing to the eye than the manicured lawn in front of it.

"You can see that the city is doing a fine job to beautify this area, like putting flowered islands," Parsell said of the landscaping on 34th Street. "And we wanted to be a stable partner of this south-side effort."

The church's vestry of nine men and women decided to put aside about $55,000 and have St. Bartholomew's entire exterior renovated.

Beginning next month, Strobel Building Inc. will be working on the church, nailing half-inch-thick Hardi-board, a fiber cement product, on the walls of the church.

Because Hardi-board looks like wood, the renovation will restore the church's look from the 19th century, said George Heppelle, Strobel's production manager.

"We tried oil paint and water paint, but it kept peeling off because the wood is old," said Parsell. "But Hardi-board will make the building waterproof and should take care of all the costly painting that we had to do."

Meanwhile, Terminix may never have to visit again. Termites can't eat Hardi-board.

St. Bartholomew's structure can be renovated as the vestry decided years ago that the church remain off the historic register. But Heppelle said next month's renovation would not change the structure.

"It will just be a sight to behold," said Barbara Cook, one of the church's 325 members.

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