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Bringing back history

A grant recently awarded to a group striving to rebuild an historic church in downtown Saratoga Springs will not only give construction efforts a needed stimulus, but also attract some attention to the long, laborious project.

At least, that's what members of the United Preservation Hall effort hope will happen through the $224,256 challenge grant awarded through the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Once they can match the funds, it will be enough to finish renovating the 1871 building's entrance in appropriately grandiose fashion. And that will hopefully show passersby that something unique is happening inside the Washington Street church.

Once the outside is finished, people will think differently about the hall, said Mary Beth McGarrahan, who works part time as office manager for Universal Preservation Hall.

"Non-profits right now are closing their doors," she continued. "We've had to come to an almost complete standstill until we can have more money in hand."

Breaking that standstill comes as a relief for this longstanding effort. The UPH became a nonprofit group in 2001, having formed a coalition to save the crumbling building after it was closed for safety reasons in 1999. The United Baptist Church congregation worshiping there could not support the needed repairs and the building seemed to be on the fast track to demolition for a time.

"Had we not acted, the structure would not be," said Tom Lewis, UPH president of the board of directors. "It would simply be a pile of bricks and broken glass."

While $2.6 million has been raised and poured back into the building since then, McGarrahan said she's routinely contacted by people who didn't realize that the building has been open and hosting events for years now. That's mostly because it was only recently that work could be started on the exterior of the building"the bulk of the original fundraising went into saving it from collapse.

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