On New Years Day, 2015 a devastating fire claimed the St. Pius X Church in the Town of Chili, New York. As church leaders and hundreds of parishioners gathered the resounding desire was to rebuild. Fast forward to December 2016, and after raising the necessary funding to rebuild, the church’s future took shape. Hanlon Architects designed a large, open interior volume with visible timber framing. Working closely with Hanlon and the Nichols Construction Team, our timber frame engineering team applied their know-how to refine and finalize the timber truss design.
“With a 36’ clear center aisle, supported with hammer beam style trusses and 33’ long keyed beam rafters to support the flanking shed roofs, this is truly going to be a magnificently expansive space for many to enjoy,” shared Bryan Bleier, timber frame engineering project leader for the St. Pius X roof system.
Today, rebuilding the St Pius X Church is well underway. In August we raised the timber frame roof system and shed roof keyed beam rafters. “Although seemingly simplistic, my favorite part of the structure is the keyed beams–top and bottom Douglas Fir timbers held together with beautiful red oak blocks to key the timbers to one another. It creates one composite member with increased structural capacity [in comparison to stacking two timber pieces] and they’re really cool looking,” continued Bryan. “They looked huge in the shop but are just right 30-some-feet-up forming part of a ceiling.”
Raised for the lower shed roof area, the 24″ x 7″ keyed beams, individually spanning 32 feet, were secured in steel saddles. Each keyed beam was crafted with separate 12″ x 7″ timbers, joined with wooden “keys” to create an overall larger timber capable of carrying heavier loads such as the snow loads common to Rochester, NY. Many of the keyed beams will remain exposed within the church.
Once the week-long raising endeavor was completed, a topping off ceremony was held at the new structure.
“We’re excited to be part of the St. Pius X rebuild overall,” said Bryan, “but to share the raising and timber framing traditions with the community was really something special. Timber frame raisings offer a chance to witness the culmination of months of effort and planning. Watching huge, hand-joined timber trusses “fly” into place is an event to be remembered.”
(Special thanks to Gary Ledgerwood for sharing the above drone video coverage with us.)
The topping off ceremony was hosted by St. Pius X and included Rochester NY’s local Bishop. Bishop Matano held mass and blessed the new church, sprinkling holy water after speaking to the attending crowd of parishioners, project craftsmen, and media.
Bryan spoke at the topping off ceremony, explaining the age-old timber framing tradition: “Placement of the pine bough at the highest point on the frame is a traditional way of paying homage to the trees used to create the structure. It’s said to bring health, happiness, and longevity to those who live in or use the frame. We follow this tradition for each of our timber frame raisings, it is always a momentous occasion, made more so today with the great number of you involved and enthusiastic about the St. Pius X rebuild.”
The August raising included sixteen trusses, hand crafted from kiln dried Douglas fir timbers. Each truss spans 37 feet and is joined with our traditional mortise and tenons, secured with hardwood pegs. Integrated structural steel tie rods help carry the load to steel posts bearing the trusses. Ten trusses will remain visible to parishioners and visitors to the completed church.
Hanlon Architects and Nichols Construction Team along with Kozel Steel and Gypsum Systems, lead the effort in making this church a reality. At approximately 15,000 sq ft the building’s expected completion is March 2018. Several of the local Rochester, NY media outlets have covered the project’s progress. Video clips and stories are available on WROC, WHAM, the Catholic Courier, and the D&C. If you’d like our take, send us a note.