OC Resident Says Fence Around St. Stephen Causing Safety Issues

| January 24, 2020

OIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – Oil City resident Bob Fry addressed the Oil City Council at its meeting Thursday about the fencing surrounding St. Stephen Catholic Church.

(Photo: The fencing on the State Street side of St. Stephen Catholic Church. Fencing also extends along East First Street side of the church and on the parking lot side of the church.)

The church first put the fencing about two years ago when serious structural issues were discovered in the towers at the church. There was fear at the time that debris might fall off the roof and injure people in the area below. Therefore, fencing was erected.

But, Fry said that in the two years since the fencing has gone up, he has yet to see any debris on the ground, and the fencing is actually causing a bigger safety risk.

“Just two hours ago, I watched two pedestrians walk outside the fence down First Street during the afternoon traffic,” Fry said. “If something happened to one of them, who’s going to be liable? Not the church (pointing to the council meaning the city would be liable).”

Fry urged the city to order the church to remove the fencing.

“Give them so much time, and then start the fines,” Fry said. “The Catholic Church is very good at paying fines. The church is going to do nothing unless you make it expensive for them. I have seen people walking around with fence into the street to try to get by.”

Councilman Michael Walentosky agreed with Fry.

“I’ve seen it several times where cars are trying to skirt around the pedestrians,” Walentosky said. “I go by there every day, and I’ve never seen a rock (from the building).”

Fry added that not only is the fencing creating a danger, it is also an embarrassment to the city.

“I was so embarrassed last year for Oil Heritage Week to even have that celebration event down there,” Fry said. “It’s just ridiculous. Aren’t you guys embarrassed by it?”

Members of the council acknowledged that they, too, were embarrassed by the fencing.

“Then, do something,” Fry said. “You can do something. You have a very good attorney right there (pointing to City Solicitor Robert Varsek). He can tell you what you can do because there are things you can do. Take some action. We are all getting tired of looking at it.”

Fry said he didn’t want to lose the church (in November 2019 Bishop Lawrence Persico issued a decree to merge St. Stephen into St. Joseph in Oil City and then made some revisions to that decree in December 2019 that allow St. Stephen to become a secondary church in the parish).

“I don’t want to lose the church, the building is an icon, both of them are,” Fry said. “But, if they can’t repair it, they have to lose it.”

Councilman Ron Gustafson agreed.

“They need to make the necessary repairs, at least make it safe” Gustafson, a contractor in the city, said.

Fry said the repairs shouldn’t be difficult to make.

“If they would go up there and take 10 or 12 courses of those pyramids up there or whatever the (heck) they are, they wouldn’t have to strap the rest of them,” Fry said. “They wouldn’t look as pretty, but they would be functional, and they wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

Oil City Manager Mark Schroyer said the fencing was initially allowed to go up because the city was led to believe the deterioration in the church presented a safety issue.

“I was just talking to a former city engineer yesterday about the fence coming up on being there two years,” Schroyer said.

Schroyer told Fry that the city would send a letter out to the church and then would follow up on that letter.

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