Update - March 5, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
As mentioned last week, the date for the Dedication of the Fourth Meeting House of the Somers Congregational United Church of Christ has been set for May 18, 2014. This will be a worship service with hymns and prayers and music from the choir. We will recognize and celebrate all the wonderful work that has been done by so many people. If the schedule follows the current plan, the congregation will have worshiped in the sanctuary a couple of Sundays prior to the Dedication. Although the Building Committee is feeling the pressure to keep things moving and to see things finished as they should be, there is growing excitement as we near completion.
Workers have been busy installing the flooring in the sanctuary. The five inch wide boards have been completely installed on the first level and by March 7 will have been installed in the balcony. Once installed the floor will be sanded smooth and finished with a couple of coats of sealer and a couple of coats of finish. The sanctuary will be completely off limits to everyone the week of March 31 so that the floor may properly set.
The pews will arrive and the installation process will begin on April 7. The pews have been created already, but will be delivered and assembled in the sanctuary. There will be eleven rows of pews on the main floor and two rows in the balcony. On a tour this week, the members of the Building Committee agreed that the railing and spindles on the front of the balcony are lower than we had anticipated. They are also much less intrusive and allow for better sight lines for those sitting in the balcony than we had imagined. Lloyd’s, the pew makers, have also crafted candleholders for the ends of the pews to be used for candlelight services. As in the past, the candleholders will be attached to every other row of pews. Rather than attaching with screws each candleholder will be held in place by two brass rings permanently installed on the inside of the pew. When not in use the rings will lie flat against the pew and then can be lifted up perpendicular to the pew and the candleholder slid into place. Each candleholder will have a ridge at the appropriate place so the candleholders will stay in place and will have a uniform height. The chimney on each candleholder will be slightly taller than we used previously and are designed to withstand the heat of the candles, which should eliminate broken chimneys.
Work is being completed on the security and fire alarm system. Motion detectors have been installed on all levels of both the new and existing areas of the building. Cameras are also in place that will record and save all movement so it can be reviewed if the need arises. The system also allows us to limit access to various parts of the building. Various sections of the building can be armed even while other parts are in use. This will give us better control over who is in what part of the building and avoid some of the problems we have had in the past.
The Building Committee discussed the need for additional training for members of the church for some of our new equipment. Although there is nothing very complicated about any of it, people do need to be aware of the specific ways to use things like the stove, the convection oven and the dish washer and how to use thermostats and the security and fire detection system. One word of advice for the time being is that if you do not know how to adjust one of the new appliances, it is best to leave it alone and check with someone who can adjust it for you. Again, nothing is very complicated, but each item is different and it is important that they be used in the proper way. This will help us avoid service calls resulting from misuse.
The Petra trailer will be gone from the parking lot as soon as possible, but we need to wait for some of the snow and ice to melt to allow for better access. The remaining fence around the Meeting House will be removed when the work on the west side is completed in the spring.
Pictures and updates continue to be posted on our webpage (www.somerscongregational.org) and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC). There are some impressive new photos of the sanctuary on display. A donation to the Capital Fund can be made at the website, in person at the church or through the US Postal Service (PO Box 295 Somers CT 06071).
Update - February 26, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Things continue to move ahead. Representatives of the pew company have been on site this week to take final measurements and to be sure we are clear about what is needed. We discovered a few weeks ago that adjustments would need to be made to the modesty wall and the first few pews near the ramp in the sanctuary. The pew people are working with the site manager to be sure the corrections will be made properly. The actual installation of the pews is scheduled for the week of April 7. In connection with the correction to the pew lengths, we had to get a couple of the pew cushions adjusted as well. Pews and cushions will be ready and looking good when we open the sanctuary in a few weeks.
Before the pews can be installed the floor has to be finished and that is a fairly involved process. The oak boards for the floor were delivered last week and are getting acclimated in the sanctuary. There is some prep work that needs to be done over the eight days the floor is installed. There will be two coats of sealer put on the floor and then two coats of finish coat. There is, of course, drying time in between application of the various coats. The floor will be finished with the installation of baseboards around the perimeter and around the columns.
The trim work is nearly done. Three is still some painting to be done and a little adjustment to the arches in the chancel to make sure they are smooth and well finished when they are painted.
The steel for the organ trough has been installed and cement poured to finish off the trough. This needed to be done prior to the installation of the balcony floor. The trough, which will contain the mechanism that will connect the organ console to the organ pipes, will have a cover constructed from the same material as the flooring.
The Building Committee has begun to make arrangement for delivery of the furniture for Pilgrim Hall and the Meeting Room. This has been bought from local sources. With the opening of the Meeting House only weeks away, we feel good about beginning to get things here and ready to be put in place. There will be a communion table, a couple of flower stands and several chairs for the sanctuary which are being custom made by the pew company, so they should arrive with the pews. The chairs for the chancel have the cross and orb symbol of the United Church of Christ carved into the backs.
The Committee that will be planning Dedication activities is gearing up to meet again and will be looking for some help with various things in the next few weeks. Plans will be firmed up about a Dedication Service of Worship as well as tours of the new facility. We will be reaching out to our neighbors and friends in the community and to those who have contributed to the Meeting House project. We have tentatively set the weekend of May 17 and 18 for Dedication activities, so you will want to mark your calendar now.
The Meeting House standing in the middle of town during the day and lit up at night and hearing the bells tolling the hours and playing music have led many people in the community to comment about how wonderful it is to see the Meeting House there and how great it is to have it looking so much like the previous Meeting House. Once we are able to use the sanctuary there will be so much to remind us of the former Meeting House but there will also be new conveniences and appointments that will make this, our fourth, Meeting House a welcoming place. Throughout the process of building, one concern that has been repeated has been whether or not the new Meeting House will “feel” like the former one. We believe we have achieved that feeling and that everyone will quickly feel at home and welcomed in the new space.
Pictures and updates continue to be posted on our webpage (www.somerscongregational.org) and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC). And donation to the Capital Fund can be made at the website, in person at the church or through the US Postal Service.
Update - February 19, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The Building Committee is happy to be able to announce a settlement has been reached addressing the claim that had been filed with us by Petra Construction. As with most settlements like this, there is a nondisclosure agreement, so we have to be content with saying the settlement has been reached, all the involved parties have contributed to the solution and we are ready to move on and finish the project.
The ceiling in the sanctuary is complete. We were happy to share a “walkthrough” after church last Sunday and there were many positive comments about how the ceiling looks. The work that has been completed on the walls and in the chancel and narthex was also met with lots of positive reviews. The stained glass panels in the sanctuary entrance doors are really a nice addition to the area. A very good feature is the wide corridor that leads from the sanctuary to the second floor of the office wing and the open stairway in the narthex adds to the beauty of the entire area.
Design work has been completed for the “trough” in which the organ mechanisms will be located. These are the connections between the keyboards and the pipes. Finishing the prep work on the trough will involve opening the ceiling below the organ area, relocating electrical, air conditioning and heating pipes and the sprinkler system in that area. This work is being done and should be completed by February 21. This will clear the way for the rest of the work in the trough, including a concrete pour on February 24, to be completed. Organ installation is still scheduled to begin on May 5.
Parishioners who walked through the second floor last Sunday also had a chance to see the completed Meeting Room and Pilgrim Hall. These two rooms fill the area that was occupied by Pilgrim Hall in the old Meeting House. Pilgrim Hall now has a row of windows overlooking the lawn and Memorial Garden, plenty of room for a couple of couches and several chairs, and chandeliers to light the entire space. There will also be several table lamps. The space should be perfect for small gatherings and a place for people to wait before weddings, funerals and baptisms. The Meeting Room will have a dining room style table large enough for eight people. It also has windows that open on to the corridor. There are two drinking fountains located just outside the Meeting Room. In addition to the double doors to the second floor of the office wing, there is also a door from the hallway outside Pilgrim Hall to the Care Center.
The five-inch oak flooring has arrived and been placed in the sanctuary. It needs to sit in the space for a couple of weeks to get acclimated. Floor installation is scheduled to begin on March 3 and complete by March 11. Once the installation is complete, there will be sanding, sealing, repeat sanding, and finishing to be done. Once the floor is installed and finished to that point, the carpenters will install the baseboards and finish the columns and wainscoting. A final finish will be put on the floor about the second week of April. After that is done the pews will arrive and be installed.
When we began this project we were thinking or completion in terms of a year and more. Then we reached the stage where we could think about completion in terms of months. We have now come to the point where we can think of seeing the completed Meeting House only weeks from now.
Update - February 12, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Progress continues to be made on the Meeting House Construction. The work has been completed on the boiler and the boiler room is ready to be painted. If you go in the kitchen you will notice the difference in the temperature; it is warmer and comfortable for use.
The stone work and railing installation has been completed on the front of the building and the fence removed. It is great to be able to see the steps and fronts doors. The fence was in place for twenty-four months, so it is nice to have it down. There are some stones left and the Building Committee is working with the Artifacts Committee to determine the best use for them. There may eventually be some available to members and friends of the church, so watch this space for further updates on that.
In the next two to three weeks, depending on weather, the parking lot will be cleaned up and the trailer will be removed. There will still be a need for the dumpster, but all of Petra’s supervisor’s work will be done in the Meeting House. The trailer removal will open up the rest of the parking lot for our use.
Anyone coming by at night has certainly noticed the building lit up. There were some initial problems with some of the lights, especially those on the lawn, but the kinks have been worked out. The lights come on at dusk and remain lit until about 10 p.m. Because of the new bulbs being used the cost of lighting the steeple is about the same as using a 100 watt bulb. It is very efficient and the effect is quite beautiful.
Work will begin this week on installation of audio visual, telephone and data wiring and equipment. Work is continuing on the sanctuary ceiling, though at this point there are only a few items contained on a final “punch list” that need to be addressed by the painters. The scaffolding in the sanctuary will be coming down very soon. Trim work has continued on the front of the balcony and will be continued when the scaffolding is down and work on the organ trough is completed so there is access to the rest of the area.
Oak flooring to be installed in the sanctuary and balcony will be delivered this week and left in the building to season for a couple of weeks before installation. Installation should begin around March 1. Once the oak has been installed the center carpet runner will be put in place. Issues with the sanctuary ramp have been addressed and the work on it will continue through the next few weeks. It will be finished as the flooring is installed. Once the flooring is all in place the pews will be delivered and installed. They are custom made and pews on the main floor will have custom made cushions. There will be no cushions on the balcony pews. This is the same as the former Meeting House and will help with acoustics in the new space.
Completion date for the project is still a moving target, but we are hoping to have use of the sanctuary by the beginning of May and be able to dedicate the space by mid-May. We will be making further definitive announcements when the information is available. Pictures and updates continue to be posted on our webpage (www.somerscongregational.org) and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC). The quest for funds continues and we are gratefully accepting contributions through the webpage, by mail and in person at the office. With the end of the project in sight we are especially anxious to finish up the Capital Campaign and close the $250,000 gap.
Update - February 5, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
At the end of this week’s Building Committee Meeting several members of the committee had a chance to walk through the new Meeting House to see progress that is being made. It was great to see that the doors have been installed between the narthex and the sanctuary. The doors line up with the center aisle and have stained glass windows. A verbal description cannot do justice to the look, but each has a clear, rippled glass cross set in the center of it to allow you to see through to the other side, but not clearly. The effect is really very beautiful.
The scaffold is still standing in the center of the sanctuary, but we are told it should be down by the beginning of next week. The ceiling is being painted this week. Work in the chancel continues and much of the trim has been installed and has been painted, or will be in the next few days.
The weather is posing a bit of a challenge, but if it cooperates, the railings will be installed on the front steps this week.
Work continues on the ramp in the sanctuary that provides access to the chancel. An adjustment had to be made to its width in order to meet code requirements for handicap access. There may also be some adjustment needed to the length of the ramp and this will be determined this week. In the meantime, the top handrail has been put in place and the spindles are ready to be installed along the entire length.
Work that will be finished in the next couple of weeks includes flooring installation at the north end of both the second and third floors, with some sections being painted and others carpeted. The work needed to finish the boiler and get the boiler room heated will also be completed.
Members of the Women’s Fellowship and others who worked on the kitchen design sub-group of the Building Committee have been unpacking and putting away the dishes and pots and pans in the kitchen as well as the kitchen utensils and gadgets. Once everything is unpacked each piece needs to have labels and tags removed and to be washed before it is ready to be used. There are still a few more things to be ordered to completely stock the kitchen, but it is ready for use. The Community Supper on February 15 will be prepared in the new kitchen, though it will be served in room 116.
A couple of items were added to the project that had not been previously included in the plans. Both are required by code. There will be window “limiters” on the balcony windows making it impossible to open them more than four inches. These are required in order to prevent anyone from opening the windows enough for a person to fall out. We also had to add an exterior audible alarm which will work with the fire alarm. This will sound when there is an alarm inside the building alerting neighbors and others in the area of a problem inside the church. These are just a couple of examples of things that increase our cost that we have no control over.
Progress continues to be made, but we are still facing delays. The schedule of work presented at this week’s Building Committee meeting by Petra Construction showed April 25th as the date of the final Certificate of Occupancy Inspection. We hope to gain some time on this schedule, but will keep everyone posted.
Update - January 29, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The Building Committee held a second Direct Discussion meeting this week with representatives of our architects, Cohessy, Harris and Kaiser, and our construction manager, the Petra Corporation, to discuss the ongoing issues with the sanctuary ceiling and to move toward some sort of agreement about costs. This is an ongoing discussion. If we are unable to reach an agreement through Direct Discussions, the matter will be taken to a mediator and then, if that does not work, to binding arbitration. The good news here is that work is continuing; we are moving ahead and there is agreement that everything possible will be done to get the new Meeting House open for Easter.
In the next few days you may notice a plywood hut on the front steps of the Meeting House covering the front door opening. This is being erected to make it possible for the carpenters to install the front doors and frame without losing a lot of heat out of the building. Weather forecasts suggest it is going to be too cold to work without shelter. The rest of the exterior doors have been installed previously, and the interior doors will be finished by February 7. By that time, the railings will have been finished on the front granite steps and the fencing, which has been in place since January 2, 2012, will be removed.
Work has continued on the sanctuary ceiling finishing up the plaster work and the staging should be removed from the center of the sanctuary by February 10 at the latest. In the meantime, work has continued on the chancel trim and the painting in the chancel should be finished by January 31.
There is some final design work being done by CHK and their engineers on the trough which runs from the organ console to the organ pipes. There has been some confusion about both the depth and the length of the trough, but we have been assured that any confusion will be cleared up this week. There will be final approval of the way things will be built by Richards, Fowkes and Company, our organ builder, this week. Because of the issues with the sanctuary ceiling, which delayed the installation of the organ, installation should begin on May 5. It will take a couple of weeks to install the organ and then several more weeks to voice it properly. We will be able to use the sanctuary for worship even while the organ is being voiced.
The organ will not be installed until the rest of the work in the sanctuary is completed. So, the schedule calls for the flooring, carpeting and pews to be installed and the painting to all be done in the sanctuary by the first week in May.
There is some work on the outside of the building that needs to be completed in the spring including painting of the columns and some other trim work that also needs finishing. The landscaping is another item that will be completed in the spring. We are now hopeful that we will be able to celebrate the Dedication of the new meeting House the third weekend in May. We are not yet confirming that as the final date, but are hopeful things will be done and ready by then.
Members of the Women’s Fellowship have been in the kitchen unpacking and putting away new plates, dishes, pots and pans. The pantry storage area is filling up with new things! It has been great to see how much storage room there is. The February 15th Community Supper will be prepared in the new kitchen and served in Room 116.
Update - January 22, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Work continues on all levels of the new Meeting House. We were glad for a slight break in the weather last week with temperatures finally warm enough so the dates stone – 1727 (the founding of the church) and 2014 (completion of the fourth Meeting House) – could be put in place at either side of the front steps. Installation of the front step hand rails has also continued. There was some confusion about the number of hand rails needed so there was a pause in the work, but things are being finished now.
Some of the work in the sanctuary continues to be delayed because the scaffolding is still in place in the middle of the room while the plaster dries. Once it is dry the coffers will be put in place and other trim work will be completed before the painters will be able to finish the ceiling. After that, the scaffolding will be removed. The chancel ramp has been adjusted in order to meet the ADA Code with handrails on each side. This has meant the length of the pews next to the ramp also needed to be adjusted. When work is complete these adjustments will not look out of place and will seem to have been part of the design right along.
There is a lot of trim to be put in place in the chancel and that work continues. There is also trim work to be installed on the front of the balcony all the way around. Balcony work to be completed includes the railing required all the way around the balcony to prevent falls. The front of the balcony will have a wall similar to the one in the old Meeting House, and then there will be spindles with a rail on top of them. Altogether this will rise to 42 inches in front of the pews and 48 inches in front of the steps. The spindles are placed so they interfere with the line of vision as little as possible.
The brass handrail on the south east balcony is in place. The bottom of this stairway is open to the narthex. At the landing above the narthex the stairway is home to the rope pull for the steeple bell and will be the location of the commemorative plaque and the logo from the old bell. The carillon is located in a cabinet in the narthex close to the front door.
Direct discussions were held with representatives of CHK and Petra as part of the Building Committee Meeting this week regarding the sanctuary ceiling and some other work on the Meeting House. Work has continued and will continue without interruption while discussions continue. We hope to be able to report that an agreement has been reached following the Building Committee’s meeting on January 28.
Members and friends of the church have been extremely generous in the past two years. Funds have been raised and donated and we have received support from some unexpected sources. More than $1.17 million has been raised and contributed. This means we have less than $250,000 left to raise in order to meet the expected cost of the Meeting House. That is great news, though it does mean we are continuing to seek funds and are grateful for all donations we receive. Donations can be mailed to the church (PO Box 295 Somers, CT 06071) or made through the link on our web site (www.somerscongregational.org). With completion of the building now only 3 months away, all of the bills will need to be paid, so we are keenly aware of the need for additional funds.
Watch our website and our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC) for updates and the latest shared photos of progress on the Meeting House.
Update - January 15, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The first meeting of the Building Committee was January 15, 2012, so we are about to pass our second anniversary working on the new Meeting House. There is certainly a lot of progress that has been made and every member of the committee has learned a lot in the process. The church is very fortunate to have had the dedicated people on the committee, and to have others in the church and community who have given time, energy and effort to the project.
Quite a bit of progress was made in the sanctuary this week. The ceiling itself is done and this week the millwork trim is being installed. That installation will be followed by the painting. The Petra crew promises us the staging will be down by January 24. Work has continued on the millwork, on the walls of the sanctuary and balcony, and in the chancel.
You may have noticed, driving by, that the railings on the front steps are being installed. They were supposed to be done this week, but the installers discovered some of the railings were not sent and so could not be installed. There is a search going on to find the missing railings which will be installed as soon as they arrive on site. The date stones should be installed as soon as weather permits.
All of the doors, both interior and exterior will be installed in the next three weeks. The painting will be done in the southwest stairway and carpeting will be installed there. It was decided to put wall-to-wall carpeting on the stairways rather than just a runner because the wall-to-wall is easier to install and also involves less cost.
The wood flooring for the sanctuary is due to be delivered on January 24. It will need to be in the building to get acclimated for a short period of time before it is installed. Once the flooring is down the carpet will be installed down the center aisle.
The committee spent significant time discussing an issue with the boiler, which is so efficient it does not throw off enough heat to keep the pipes in the boiler room from freezing. A couple of different options for solving the problem have been discussed and are being reviewed by the engineer and heating expert. We hope to have the problem fixed in the very near future.
Next week there will be an important meeting with the Building Committee and representatives from CHK Architects and Petra Construction to address all the issues related to the sanctuary ceiling. Although the ceiling has been raised to the required level and is ready for the organ, there are concerns around responsibility and expenses which need to be worked out. Work continues uninterrupted while the issues are discussed and the Building Committee remains very pleased with the work done by both Petra and CHK.
Again we want to remind everyone to stay in the areas of the building open to us, and to stay out of the areas on the second and third floors that are active construction zones. Everyone’s cooperation is needed to keep the area safe and to insure our continued access to the Foundation Room.
Watch for further updates in this space and remember, our website (www.somerscongregational.org) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC) continue to be great sources of information and offer a great way to contribute to the Capital Campaign.
Update - January 7, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The Building Committee met this week as usual and heard a report of the progress being made on the Meeting House construction. The pew cushions have arrived and are stored in one of the classrooms in the Bugbee Center. Some of them are as long as sixteen feet and others are shorter to be used on the pews designed to allow wheelchair access in the sanctuary. They came complete with foam pads to help prevent slipping. The cushions are also designed so they can be flipped and still fit snugly on the pews.
The church Technology Committee has worked closely with the Building Committee, the acoustician, the builder and the architects to create a plan for the data and phone needs of the church. There will be a couple of phones added to the current system and located in the Meeting House. The system has been designed so that the entire facility will have wireless internet access. There is access so that the carillon can be programmed and adjusted remotely and there will be data access connected to the pulpit. Because of requirements for emergency access from both elevators and the security and fire alarms systems, our telephone system has ended up being fairly complicated. The Tech Committee has been able to redesign some access and save us considerable money.
Work on the sanctuary ceiling continues. The plaster is complete and is in the process of setting, as reported last week. It should be ready so painting can begin on January 13. Trim work will also be done. There will be wainscoting on both levels of the sanctuary, under and beside the windows. Trim work is being done in the chancel and painting will begin there when the rest of the sanctuary is painted. We have not yet received the final design for the organ loft but are expecting to receive it this week. All issues related to the ceiling, the organ trough and the placement of the organ console and pipes will be addressed at a direct meeting to be held with the Building Committee, CHK Architects and Petra Construction on January 21.
The railings on the front entry stairway should be installed before January 18. There will be one on each side of the three sections of steps leading to the front door. The front door itself has been ordered and should arrive and be installed by the end of the month. The carved “date stones” for the front of the building are ready to be installed as soon as the weather is warm enough. Again, there will be one stone with 1727, the year our congregation was gathered and the other with 2014 the year the fourth Meeting house will be completed.
Work continues on the second floor hallways of the Meeting House. The temporary wall has been removed in room 204 and the door installed that connects with the hallway and Pilgrim Hall. The temporary wall in the second floor lobby should be removed by January 10. That lobby will feature a double doorway entrance between the office wing and the Meeting House similar to the double doors in the first floor lobby.
REMINDER – Although we have access to the first floor Foundation Room and kitchen, the rest of the building is still an active construction site and is off limits to all. It is a dangerous area.
Although we are still not able to give a date certain for the opening of the sanctuary, we continue to hope that we will be able to hold Easter services (April 20) there.
If you have not experienced worship in the new Foundation Room, this Sunday would be a perfect time to come share with the congregation at 8:15 or 10 A.M.
Update - January 2, 2014
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
We have some things to celebrate this week. On January 1st there was a gathering of about 85 members and friends in front of the Meeting House as darkness fell. The steeple bell pealed loudly for several minutes and the group applauded. After sharing scripture readings about light and singing This Little Light of Mine everyone was treated to the lights coming up on the steeple, front of the Meeting House and driveway lamps. There were a couple more verses of scripture shared and then the carillon played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and The Church’s One Foundation. January 1, 2014 marked a giant step into the future for the Somers Congregational Church.
Christmas Eve was also a time of celebration for us. The three services on Christmas Eve are always a well-attended high point for the church, but this year there was even more excitement because they were the first services we held in the new Meeting House. With construction continuing in the sanctuary, making the second and third levels of the new building off limits, we gathered in the Foundation Room. Nearly all of the chairs were filled for the first two services and additional chairs were added for the third. With the Choir and the bell choir and a large gathering of members and friends we all felt the joy of being in our new building, the fourth Meeting House for our church.
The Building Committee met early on New Year’s Eve morning to check progress and keep the project moving ahead. We were glad to hear the plaster work on the sanctuary ceiling has been completed and it is setting and drying as it should. The wainscoting in the sanctuary is nearly completed and trim work has begun in the chancel area. Once the plaster is completely dry the trim work will be added to the ceiling and the painting done and then the staging will be removed. With the staging out of the sanctuary work will move ahead fairly quickly on flooring and the rest of the trim work.
Work has progressed on the third floor of the building and should be completed in another week. The front doors and exterior front railings should be installed by January 15, at which time the fence will be removed from that area of the site. The interior bronze railing on the southeast stairway should also be in place by January 15.
Petra Construction recommended the bid package submitted for the telephone/data work. This is the last of all the bid packages and the Building Committee chose a contractor. Additionally, some of the A/V equipment has already been ordered and installation will move ahead in the next few weeks. Work will be delayed until the staging is removed from the sanctuary, but then will move along rapidly.
Our safety and security systems are working in the parts of the building we have occupied. This means the sprinkler and alarm systems are functional. Again, it is important for everyone to understand that we are permitted access only to the Foundation Room level and the rest of the Meeting House is an active construction site. NO ONE is allowed in the construction site area. Failure to adhere to this prohibition could result in loss of the use of the rest of the building.
The Capital Campaign Committee announced a good inflow of cash at the end of the year, with some who have previously pledged paying ahead of schedule and some “new” previously unpledged funds coming in. This has allowed us to continue to keep current with all our construction bills while still not needing to touch our line of credit. Everyone who contributes helps in this area.
There are new pictures posted on our web site at www.somerscongregational.org as well as a link for contributions.
We are worshiping at 8:15 and 10 A.M. every Sunday in the Foundation Room of the Meeting House, so plan on being with us this week!
Update - December 17, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Plans are well underway for the upcoming Christmas Eve worship services in the Foundation Room. We will have the traditional Family Worship at 5:30 P.M., Services of Lessons and Carols at 7:30 P.M. and a Candlelight Communion service at 11 P.M. We are also happy to announce that the parking lot entrance will be open in time for Christmas Eve, so that will be in use and we will be adjusting to a new way of coming and going. We are expecting large congregations on Christmas Eve. Sunday worship services will be held in the Foundation Room beginning on December 29 and continuing until the sanctuary is open.
While we are using the Foundation Room, it must be noted that the rest of the Meeting House is strictly OFF LIMITS. No one is allowed beyond the first floor. The rest of the building continues to be an active construction site and is unsafe. The Building Committee is counting on everyone to cooperate to keep the site safe.
Although we will be very happy to be at the new Meeting House, we continue to express our deep and heartfelt thanks to the Board of Directors, Administrators and staff of Johnson Memorial Medical Center for their kindness and hospitality to us over the past twenty-three months. Using the space in the Community Education Center allowed us to continue both worship and Sunday school on a pretty normal basis. Being a part of such a caring community has certainly been an important part of what has gotten us through this time since the fire.
The new ceiling in the sanctuary is framed and plastering has begun. The plan is to have the plastering completed by December 31 and then to allow a couple of weeks for it to set and dry before the painting is done. We are hoping this is a good time for the plaster to be drying, with the dry air aiding the process. Some painting is being done in the sanctuary and stairways. Painting throughout the sanctuary will be completed once the ceiling has been finished.
The work on the audio-visual installation is set to begin. We will have a great system that will enhance the sound for both the spoken and sung word. We will also be able to hear what is going on in the sanctuary in the Care Room, Bride’s Room and Kitchen. At a later date we might be able to add a system in the Foundation Room.
Plans are underway for a special celebration on January 1, 2014, to mark the lighting of the church and steeple on an ongoing basis. We will gather at 5 P.M. on January 1st for a brief ceremony that will climax with the switching on of the steeple lights and the building floodlights. Our Meeting House will once again be a beautiful presence in the center of the community both night and day. Everyone is invited to join us on January 1st for this special ceremony.
Our fundraising efforts continue. We have less than $300,000 left to raise thanks to the generosity of members, friends and the wider community. Contributions can be made on our website (www.somerscongregational.org) or through the mail (PO Box 295 Somers, CT 06071).
The Building Committee will not be meeting next week and there will be no update. Watch for the next Update on December 31.
Update - December 12, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The big news is that we have received a partial Certificate of Occupancy that allows us to use the first floor of the Meeting House and Christmas Eve Services will be held in the Foundation Room. Services will be as scheduled at 5:30, 7:30 and 11 P.M. Beginning on December 29, Sunday worship services at 8:15 and 10 A.M. will be held in the Foundation Room until the sanctuary is ready for use. Sunday services on December 15 and 22 will be held at the Community Education Building of Johnson Memorial Medical Center.
We are extremely grateful for the kindness and generosity extended to us by the Board of Directors and staff of JMMC. The use of the Community Education Center has allowed us to continue to worship and carry on other activities since the Meeting House fire. We are happy to be a part of this community of caring people.
Members of the Building Committee were happy to report that there seemed to be a very positive response to the building from those who were able to walk through it after church this past Sunday. With the Foundation Room, kitchen, Pilgrim Hall and meeting room virtually complete it was wonderful to be able to show people how much work has been done. There was a positive response to the sanctuary windows too. The Committee expressed appreciation for the extra time and effort Terry Deveney, Petra Construction’s Site Manager, put in to make sure the site was read for the walk through and to be there with answers to questions people had.
We had hoped to have the concrete work on the west side of the building completed now, but the weather has not been cooperative. There is a chance – should it warm up for a few days – that the work will be done before we have a deep covering of snow, but most likely it will be completed in the spring. This is not part of the “critical path” so does not hold up progress toward the final goal.
Things are moving ahead with the audio/visual installation and with the telephone and data installation. The Building Committee did choose to scale back the audio visual components somewhat in order to save money, but have chosen a system with options that will provide optimal sound for both music and the spoken word. Included will be sound monitors for the Care Room, Bride’s Room and kitchen so a service can be heard in those places.
Final selection was made for the “date stones” that will be inserted on the left and right piers in front of the Meeting House. The year the church was gathered, 1727, and the year the fourth Meeting House was completed, 2014, will be chiseled into granite pieces salvaged from the third Meeting House and placed in the piers. Pieces of the salvaged granite were also used as the top of the window wells.
Training was complete last week on the carillon, which will be installed and running in the next few days. It was played on Sunday during the walk through, but the cabinet which will be its permanent location has not been completed. A couple of people were able to give the new bell rope a pull to send the sound of the bell across the community once again. It is ready for use when we need it. Training sessions on the kitchen equipment will be held on December 17. We hope to have a core of people who will be able to operate all of the equipment and to help others with it as well. It is vitally important that everyone using it know the best practices to keep everyone safe and the equipment running efficiently.
We continue to raise funds. To date we have paid every bill we have received related to the project in full on time. Members of the church and community have been generous and have continued to contribute to the Building Fund. At this point we are projecting that we have less than $400,000 left to raise – a large sum, but an achievable goal with the continued generosity and support of those who love the church.
Update - December 4, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
At their meeting this week, the Building Committee chose ALTEL Systems, Inc. of Brewster, New York, to install the sound system in the sanctuary. The system will feature state of the art wired and wireless microphones, amplifiers and speakers and will provide amplified sound that will sound natural to everyone in the sanctuary. Most of the adjustments for the system will be made in a third floor A/V closet. Once the system is installed and adjusted there will be little to no need for any further setting changes. This will minimize the chance of things getting changed by unauthorized users.
This week the security system installation will be finished. The system includes cameras in several locations and a recording and monitoring station in the Church Office. This will give us the ability to see what is going on in various parts of the building and to know who is entering and exiting. Once the system is armed it will require the use of specific codes assigned to those with authorized access. The system gives us the ability to allow use of one part of the building while the rest of the building will be “armed”. The system also includes fire and CO monitoring with a direct connection to a 24/7 monitoring center.
The lack of heat on the second floor of the office wings has been an ongoing problem, which we believe has finally been addressed and will be corrected in time for the Christmas Bazaar. There has also been a strong and unpleasant odor plaguing us for a couple of weeks. This too has been addressed and should no longer be of concern.
The concrete sidewalk on the west side of the building was scheduled to be installed this week. Measurements for the walk showed that the steps into the Memorial Garden needed to be adjusted in order to meet code. We were fortunate that Tom Moriarty of Moriarty Landscaping was able to come and adjust the steps right away. The sidewalk should be poured as planned this week. The completion of the sidewalk will mean that most of the site work will be completed.
Design work on the sanctuary ceiling and organ trough are nearly complete and we hope that work will begin within a few days on rebuilding the ceiling. It has been important to coordinate the ceiling structure with all of the necessary electric, heating, cooling and fire suppression ducts and pipes that are located above the ceiling. The ceiling problem has caused a major delay in the building schedule and we are now looking toward the end of March or beginning of April 2014 before we will be able to use the sanctuary. While no one is happy with this long delay, the Building Committee is committed to being sure the completed Meeting House has as few problems as possible.
Most of the carillon and bell system has been installed and several people were trained to use it on December 2. As various systems are competed in the Meeting House there will be other training sessions to make sure people know how to use the equipment correctly, efficiently and safely. We also hope to create a video archive of training sessions to be used in the future.
Watch for further updates in this space and remember, our website (www.somerscongregational.org) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC) continue to be great sources of information.
Update - November 26, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Our new Meeting House passed some important reviews and tests this past week. The Town of Somers Fire Marshall was here and the alarms system and sprinkler system passed inspection. The kitchen has received a preliminary approval and will be ready for its final inspection in the next couple of weeks. We are also in the process of getting ready to pass the inspection for fire extinguishers and other life safety codes as well as the final Health Department inspection.
Work is very close to completion in the Foundation Room, Pilgrim Hall and second floor Meeting Room. Painting is done, all of the light fixtures have been installed and the flooring is complete. Terry Deveney, our Site Superintendent from Petra Construction has sealed off the upstairs rooms to make sure nothing will disturb them now that they are nearly completed. As the pictures we have been sharing each Sunday morning will testify, the new Meeting House is going to be amazing and the various spaces and rooms within it will be welcoming and well suited to their particular functions.
The Building Committee was pleasantly surprised at their November 26 meeting to find work being done to install turf next to the driveway on the east side of the building We had concluded that we would need to seed the area in the spring, but found that Nate Daniels of Twin State Turf Farm had donated the necessary turf and Frank Cicciarella of Frank’s Landscaping and Construction had sent his men to install it. They have given us the finished look we were not expecting to see until next spring.
The Verdin Company is scheduled to be on site on December 2 to do the finishing work on the bell and to install the carillon. Once the carillon is installed we are planning on turning it on so there will be bells ringing from our steeple once again at 9 A.M., Noon and 6 P.M. daily. This has been one of the things most missed by our neighbors in town and we are all looking forward to hearing the bells once again.
Green Construction Company was on site this week to remove the temporary boiler and water heater that have been in the temporary room in the office lobby this past year. The offices and meeting rooms in the office wing will now be heated by the Meeting House boiler. This should prove to be more efficient. The temporary water heater and boiler were purchased by the church so we will be looking to dispose of them in the very near future.
The Building Committee chose ALTEL Systems, Inc., of Brewster, New York to take care of installing our Audiovisual Systems. They will be working with the committee and our acoustician to define the complete scope of the work to be done and planning for systems needed in the sanctuary, foundation room and auxiliary locations. ALTEL representatives met with the Building Committee and showed a clear understanding of our commitment to installing what is needed, within the confines of the budget we have before us.
Design work is virtually completed so work should begin very soon on replacing the sanctuary ceiling. There was also design work completed for the trough, which will house the workings of the organ and run between the console and the pipes.
Thanksgiving makes this a short work week, but there is a great deal of progress being made. We are happy to know that each day brings us closer to the day when we will celebrate the opening of our new Meeting House.
Update - November 20, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Work has continued this past week to get the final design of the ceiling in the sanctuary. It has not been a simple matter of raising it to the necessary level because there are heat and air conditioning ducts to be relocated as well as ensuring there is the correct clearance for the largest organ pipes. Design work is also being done to be sure we have an adequate “trough” running between the organ console and pipes. This is the space for the mechanisms that make the organ make its sound. The design is close enough to being finished so that framing work will begin on the ceiling on November 21. The framing will be done first at the chancel end of the sanctuary and then move south toward the choir loft.
A good portion of the rest of the building is nearly complete. Carpet was laid in the Foundation Room this week. The doors will be hung in that room by November 22. At that point the Foundation Room will be virtually finished. The Meeting Room and Pilgrim Hall on the second floor will also be complete by November 22. Third floor doors are being hung this week too.
On the exterior of the building there is still some “buttoning up” to be done which will complete the trim work. Concrete work has been completed on the east side and front of the building and the area has been prepared for the walkway from the street to the Memorial Garden on the west side. Cool temperatures the last few days have meant the concrete could not be poured there, but the areas is being kept warm and if the temperature rises the work will be completed. Lamp posts have been installed on the east side of the building. Completion of the driveway and sidewalk has meant the construction fence could be moved resulting in much easier and obvious access to the Main Entrance.
Although the driveway has been completed, it will not be open until the project is finished because it runs through the middle of the work site. There are supplies and equipment near the construction trailer that need to be moved into the building, and there are workers moving back and forth across that area, so it is not safe to open the driveway.
The bell and carillon are scheduled to be completed on December 2. The plan is to get the carillon running once it is installed so there will be the sound of bells form our steeple once again.
The Building Committee approved the engraving for the two date stones to be installed on the front of the building on either side of the steps. 1727 will be on one side, representing the gathering of the church and 2014 will be on the other side, representing the date of completion for the fourth Meeting House.
Work is being done to open the doors between the Meeting House and the office wing. There will be one set of double doors in the lobby outside the offices, another set of double doors in the second floor lobby and a single door between Pilgrim Hall and the Care Room. Even when installed, these doorways will not be used until the project is completed.
Watch for further updates in this space and remember, our website (www.somerscongregational.org) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC) continue to be great sources of information.
Update - November 13, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
We continue to see progress around the Meeting House site. The grading and paving of the driveway has been completed; the sidewalk is in place and the Main Entrance should be in full use in the next few days. There is also grading being done on the west side of the building and in the front.
You have probably noticed that the pillars are all in place and the siding and trim work is nearly complete. The joints where the pillars were put together will be finished and primed this fall but it looks like the final painting will not take place until the spring. There have been a lot of comments about how great it is to see the steeple as you drive into town from pretty much any direction. Although it is new, it is so much like the previous steeple that it feels comforting and welcoming. This is probably a good place to repeat that the steeple design is the original and that there was never any other kind of steeple or spire on top of the building. This style of church and steeple was pretty popular through this part of Connecticut at the time the third Meeting House was built (1842). At one point in our history there was a pole that almost looked like a flag pool on top of the steeple, but never anything more than that.
The sanctuary windows are all in place and the trim work has been completed on the main level. The trim work is being finished on the balcony level this week. There remains work to be done on the front of the balcony which is delayed until the ceiling adjustment is done. Scaffold is currently preventing access to the front of the balcony, which also means the installation of the balustrade will not be finished until after the new ceiling is in place. The balustrades will include spindles at the top preventing people and objects from falling onto the congregation below.
All of the equipment is installed in the kitchen and it has a preliminary review by health officials. There will be further inspections once other items are in place and we are ready to use the kitchen. A team has been working to get together all the dishes, pots and pans, and cooking utensils that need to be replaced to bring the kitchen back to the workable space we had before the fire. It looks like improvements such as an enhanced dishwasher, better dish storage space, an improved walk-in cooler and the convection oven are going to make the kitchen easier to work in and a real pleasure for the workers.
Work has been pretty much completed in the Foundation Room, with the flooring to be installed. The various closet doors have been painted and are ready to be hung.
The Building Committee is continuing to work with the design team and the construction team to design and approve the new ceiling in the sanctuary. Work is being coordinated with the acoustician and the organ company as well to be certain we have the best possible design and construction. Good cooperation and communication continues between the various parties and progress will be made soon. The ceiling that was too low has been removed.
Members of the Building Committee are strongly committed to keeping the congregation abreast of our progress and so are hoping to set an informational meeting with all interested members and friends in the very near future. Our website (www.somerscongregational.org) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC) continue to be great sources of information.
Update - November 6, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
Progress is being made in several areas this week. Driving by the church you can see that Avery Construction is working on the entrance driveway. The grade of the slope from Main Street to the parking lot has been re-worked so that it is suitably gradual. There will be a concrete sidewalk between the driveway and the Meeting House, and several lamp posts will be installed along the sidewalk. The Main Entrance to the building has been re-opened and will remain so except for a day now and then when paving or other work is being done. The new roof over the main entrance will help distinguish it from other doors and make it “weather friendly.” Paving should be completed on the driveway early next week.
Other progress that should be noted:
The largest part of the project at the moment continues to be the installation of the ceiling in the sanctuary. The design team continues to work with the organ builder and construction manager in order to create an acoustically correct and aesthetically pleasing design. We have been told this will be completed by November 8. Construction will begin as soon as all the involved parties have signed off on the design.
The Building Committee discussed the sidewalk on the west side of the building, which will run from the street to the Memorial Garden. Because pavers were broken by equipment through the course of the fire and construction, it was decided to have a poured concrete walk.
The Committee reviewed the design of the hymnal racks for the pews. Lloyd’s had sent a sample which we looked at. The hymnal racks will be constructed with mahogany given to the church by the Larsons and will be stained to match the other mahogany trim work in the sanctuary. There will be room in the racks for hymnals, Bibles, pew cards and pencils.
We are pleased to announce contributions to the Capital Campaign continue to come in by mail (P.O. Box 295 Somers, CT 06071) and through our website (www.somerscongregational.org). There is still a substantial amount of money to be raised. Updates will continue to be posted on the website, on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC), and on the Ellington-Somers edition of Patch.com.
Update - October 30, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The Building Committee had an update on the ceiling progress at this week’s meeting. The staging will all be in place by the end of the day and work has begun on the demolition of the ceiling. Everything will be removed to the lathe, which will then be raised to the correct height. When it is at the correct height the plastering will begin. The best estimate we have now is that the completion of the Meeting House will be delayed six to seven weeks as a result of this.
Work on the main entrance is nearly complete and we should be able to use it by the end of the week. There may be a few days in the future when we will not be able to use it because of work being done on the driveway and parking lot, but for the most part it will be available.
We are moving ahead toward accepting a bid for a contractor to supply and install the audio visual equipment throughout the new Meeting House. We have chosen to delay the installation of some of the equipment because the cost proved to be higher than we had budgeted. The sound equipment in the sanctuary will be that which was recommended and will provide us with top notch sound and sound enhancement. In the future we will be looking to expand the system to include the Foundation Room.
Even while work is being done on the sanctuary ceiling, work continues throughout the rest of the building. The Foundation Room and kitchen are nearly completed and all the kitchen equipment should be delivered and installed early next week. Wainscoting has been installed in Pilgrim Hall and work there is being completed to ready it for painting. The Meeting Room is also in the final stages of preparation for painting. All of these areas should be complete in the next three to four weeks.
Work is also continuing in the balcony and around the edges of the sanctuary. The stained glass windows have arrived and are being installed. Once the ceiling is replaced work will be done to install the oak flooring and carpet in the sanctuary, the pews will be installed and the final painting will be done. The balustrades will also be installed around the edge of the balcony. These are a new feature for us, required by the new codes. Above the solid wall of the balcony there will be spindles to keep people from falling over the edge into the congregation below.
The columns for the front of the building will be delivered at the end of this week and installed beginning on Tuesday next week. Due to some delays this is later than we had hoped and later than had been scheduled, so it looks as though they may not get painted until the spring when the weather is warmer. There will also be other exterior painting to be completed when the weather warms up again.
The Building Committee spent some time reviewing color choices for the sanctuary now that some of the trim and portions of the walls have been painted. It was decided to stay with the original colors. There is growing excitement about how amazing the new Meeting House is going to be!
We continue to invite contributions from the community to help us fund the completion of the Meeting House. Contributions can be made through the website www.somerscongregational.org or by mail to PO Box 295 Somers, CT 06071.
Update - October 24, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
The Building Committee has met with the architects from Cohessey, Harris and Kaiser and representatives for Petra Construction and is now able to report of the fix for the ceiling in the sanctuary. The center section of the ceiling will be removed to the lathe, the lathe will be raised the necessary amount and a new ceiling will be constructed. This could take 3 to 4 weeks. While the work is being done the center section of the sanctuary will be sealed in plastic to keep the debris and dust under control and work will continue on the sides, in the balcony and chancel areas. This will help to reduce the length of the delay in progress.
The area of the balcony where the organ will be located will be rebuilt to allow space for the “trough” needed for the components of the organ that tie the console to the pipes. Before any of the work is done we will get an OK from Richards, Fowkes and Company, the organ builders. The Building Committee continues to have full confidence in the team that has designed and is building the Meeting House.
There is good progress being made in other phases of the construction. We are expecting the new main entrance, by the offices, to be complete this week, giving us access once again from the parking lot. Once the siding is complete on the east side of the building, Avery Construction will be able to work on grading and finishing the areas in the front of the building and the driveway. On Wednesday of this week the steeple lights were put on for the evening, giving everyone a chance to see how they will look. The Building Committee will have some suggestions as adjustments are made to the lighting.
The carpet for the Foundation Room is scheduled to be installed during the first week of November. Before then, the rest of the kitchen equipment will be delivered and installed. The ceiling in the Foundation Room will be inspected and completed next week.
There is a great deal of millwork throughout the building. This includes all the woodwork and trim. This work is being done as each room is completed. Once the millwork is installed in a room, the painting is being done. The building is taking shape area by area. The connecting doors between the office wing and the new Meeting House should be cut through and installed around December 1. Access will still be limited. It is important that the area be kept safe and that no one wander around without proper authorization.
The manufacturing of the windows is nearly complete and they are due to be installed next week. Installation will take five to six days. The windows installed will be the stained glass with the protective clear glass in the window frames.
The Building Committee is still reviewing and paring down the bids for Audio Visual equipment and installation. The intention is to have equipment we need throughout the building without breaking the bank. A decision about the final scope of A/V installation should be made next week.
We continue to invite contributions from the community to help us fund the completion of the Meeting House. Contributions can be made through the web site www.somerscongregational.org or by mail to PO Box 295 Somers, CT 06071.
UPDATE - October 16, 2013
Rev. Dr. Barry Cass
We have been given another challenge. Inspections on Tuesday revealed the fact that the ceiling in the sanctuary was installed too low, not allowing the room needed for the organ pipes. Members of the Building Committee met with the organ builders, architects, construction manager and engineer to determine what could be done. The conclusion reached was that the center part of the ceiling from front to back would be raised to the required height. Because this is an error made by a sub-contractor there will be no additional expenses incurred by the church, but the timeline and completion date will be affected. An announcement will be made about the actual change as soon as it is known.
The Building Committee continues to have every confidence in the Construction Managers and architects. We are pleased with progress that is being made.
The final “Proof of Loss” documents have been signed and the final check from Utica National Insurance will be in our hands within a week or so. There will be an announcement of the full settlement at that time. The Insurance Committee, under the leadership of Rick Skodinski, has worked many hours to negotiate the settlement and due to their dedication and efforts the settlement is very fair. The settlement includes money for the restoration of our Bugbee and Office wings, remediation of hazardous materials that were present on the site, and the replacement of the Meeting House that burned on January 1, 2012.
In constructing the new Meeting House the footprint was changed, making it possible for us to have an adequate kitchen on the first floor, both a meeting room and Pilgrim Hall on the second floor and code-required rest rooms on the third floor. The additional footage was not covered by our insurance policy, but was needed to meet the requirements of the church now and in the future.
The Capital Campaign Committee is now aware that, while the Campaign has been well-received and many members of the congregation and community have been generous, we face a need for additional funds. The Finance Board is working on a plan that will combine using endowment fund assets and loans from members and financial institutions to cover the gap. The congregation will be kept informed as these plans are firmed up and we move ahead. Members and friends of the church, who have not yet done so, are being urged to make a financial commitment to the Capital Campaign. We hope they will also share the story of our fire and our rebuild with interested family and friends who might like to be part of this historic project.
The next few weeks will be as challenging as any since the fire. There is no doubt that our new Meeting House will be built and paid for, but now we are challenged to support one another and to share the spiritual resources we each have, as well as the financial resources available to us, in our best effort to bring the dreams we have shared to reality.
Members of the Building Committee are happy to talk with any member of the church who has questions and you can still send questions and comments to them at Build@somerscongregational.org.
We will continue to share weekly photos at the beginning of our worship services on Sunday so the congregation can see the progress being made. You can also keep abreast with progress on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SomersCongUCC), our web site (www.somercongregational.org) and my blog on the Somers-Ellington Patch.com site for pictures and updates.