by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — On Monday, June 8, workers were getting set up to restore masonry on the northwest corner of the Christ Episcopal Church on State Street when the unthinkable happened: The extended 65-foot-long, 35,000-pound crane came crashing down on the roof, smashing a hole, damaging a beam in the church, and narrowly missing four people. “The fact that nobody was hurt or killed is nothing short of miraculous,” said Priest Paul Habersang by phone to The Bridge June 11.
Habersang said the crane, owned by Hutch Crane Services, was subcontracted by Alpine Restoration to remove capstones on the roof as part of a planned restoration project on the northwest section of the church, which was built in 1868. Water had infiltrated the exterior wall, and the freezing and thawing of the water over many years had caused some bricks to become cantilevered. The crane was just being set up when it came out of its foundation. It was a “complete accident,” according to Habersang, but “the risk to life was very real for the four people on site. The truth of the matter is, we are so lucky that nothing happened to anybody. It was that close,” Habersang said.
Montpelier Fire Department Chief Robert Gowans said he arrived on scene shortly after the morning accident and remained all day to ensure public safety as the church called in two additional cranes to cut up and remove the fallen crane. “I got home around 8 p.m.,” Gowans said.
Habersang said he had been meeting with the contractor and structural engineers, and the extent of the damage is not yet known nor is the projected cost of repair. The engineers determined the accident had made it unsafe for people to go into the sanctuary. Therefore, the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. services on June 14 were scheduled to be held in the parish hall. He said any schedule beyond that has not yet been lined up. “We are still trying to figure out what we are going to do moving forward,” Habersang said. Habersang also sang the praises of community members, including workers with the city of Montpelier, who offered immediate support. “The city responded to our crisis. People came from off the street and said, ‘How can we help?’ That meant so much, especially in a small town like Montpelier. We felt very supported by our neighbors and our community. Folks were ministering to us in our time of need. There was grace to be found all the way around.” Habersang reiterated several times about how grateful he is that no one was hurt, noting how you can rebuild a building, but you can’t fix a loss of life.