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NMSU professors need votes for grant to help restore historic Phillips Chapel

The funds to help a group of New Mexico State University professors and local volunteers complete restoration of a 100-year-old chapel may depend on getting online votes from the community. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is wrapping up its "This Place Matters Community Challenge" on June 30.

NMSU professors, students and community volunteers gather outside Phillips Chapel in May to help with restoration work on the historic Las Cruces building. (Courtesy photo - John Hyndman)

Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which sits on the corner of North Tornillo Street and Lucero Avenue within the Mesquite Street Original Townsite Historic District, is among the top 100 historic preservation projects in the country chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to compete for grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

"Phillips Chapel is a symbol of community preservation in action," NMSU archaeology professor Beth O'Leary said. "It is being restored by private donations and volunteers and student labor. The preservation efforts have reached the halfway mark. We are in desperate need of this award to finish the project."

Last year, O'Leary, NMSU history professor and Phillips Chapel trustee Clarence Fielder, engineering professor Sonya Cooper, and Doņa Ana Community College building construction technology professors Ronald Taylor, Pat Taylor and David Chavez joined together and developed a method to prevent ongoing problems with the building's adobe walls and the faulty drainage system, as well as addressing the structure's other damage using preservation standards. For the last three semesters, DACC students helped begin the restoration process.

In 2003, the chapel was nominated to the State Register of Cultural Projects and the National Register of Historic Places. A New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities grant helped Fielder and graduate student Terry Moody to create a photo exhibit documenting the history of the Las Cruces African American community, which is currently at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.

The chapel was built in 1911 and was even used as a schoolhouse during segregation in the 1920s and 1930s, but its mostly elderly congregation has no way of completing the needed repairs. Fundraising events and community donations have provided some support, but more funding is needed.

"The Las Cruces community has been great to us - coming to volunteer work days and fundraisers," O'Leary said. "We never could have come this far without them but we need their vote. It is just the same as the restoration effort - one vote at a time moves us towards our goal just as the building is restored by one handful of mud at a time. If everyone who has ever come to help us or wants to help us now would just vote, we might win this thing yet."

Follow this link to vote in the "This Place Matters Community Challenge" at http://bit.ly/jPsVwm. For more information on Phillips Chapel visit http://www.newmexicohistory.org. To make a donation to help restore Phillips Chapel, contact Clarence Fielder at 575-524-7210 or maryehol@nmsu.edu; Beth O'Leary at 575-646-2560 or boleary@nmsu.edu; or David Chavez dglc.chavez@gmail.com or 575-526 -9458.