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Church Building Preservationists Hail Judge’s Action

By Liz Hayes
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Congregants who oppose the demolition of a historic Poke Run Presbyterian Church building believe a county judge has granted them access to the tools they need to save the structure.

Nine members of the Washington Township church last week filed a lawsuit in Westmoreland County Court against the church trustees. They asked for an injunction to delay the demolition and requested the judge force the trustees to turn over some church documents.

Judge Gary P. Caruso on Friday issued the preliminary injunction, but he lifted it during a hearing Monday. Caruso said the court does not have the jurisdiction to enforce an injunction.

However, Caruso ordered the trustees to provide a 10-point list of documents to the plaintiffs, including minutes from several church meetings dating to June 2009, church bylaws and any contracts and resolutions relating to the demolition.

Trustee President Vince Goodiski previously said the demolition of the church’s academy building, which dates back to 1889, would make way for an elevator and ground-floor access to the church’s fellowship hall. He said the existing handicap access to the church is inadequate.

The church was established in 1785 and is located on Poke Run Church Road, near the intersection of Routes 366 and 66.

Trustees insist they followed all congregational and Redstone Presbytery rules when they voted to demolish the old wooden building.

But lead plaintiff Maynard Miller of Kiski Township believes church regulations were not followed, and he hopes the requested documents will support his case.

Miller said he was pleased with Caruso’s decision and hopes the church soon will turn over the requested documents. He said the plaintiffs can’t take further action until they review that information.

“Our determination of where we go from here will be determined on what is in the information I’m seeking from the church,” Miller said.

Miller said the trustees’ timeline for the demolition leaves opponents at least six weeks to review the documents and react. He was hopeful the trustees would not move up the work in the meantime.

Goodiski could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Walt Lange, vice president of the board of the trustees, declined to comment.

Miller said about 100 church members have signed his petition to save the building. Additionally, he said a similar number of members in the Washington Township Alumni Association have protested demolition of the building, which once served as a high school.

“Over 200 people are pleading with them, ‘Don’t destroy our historical legacy,'” Miller said.

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