The USG Dining Room Floor Renovation

B&G* and Your Contributions Hard at Work!

by Howard Silver, August 24, 2023

 We are in an aging building, completed in 1929, getting close to 100 years old. The Building and Grounds* Committee’s mission focuses on preventive maintenance as well as cosmetic upgrades.  We try to keep the building looking welcoming and well-cared-for so we give the best impression to any one who enters our doors. Over the past several fiscal years the Committee has made it a goal to focus on completing one major upgrade in the building each year.

This year we decided on the Dining Room. In the 1980s and early 90’s  “Explore”, a very well attended  singles event, was held  in the Dining Room every Sunday evening, complete with dancing and a disc jockey. The room was decorated to look like a disco. The ceilings, which had been covered with ceiling tiles, were painted charcoal gray, and the walls were dark pink. In the early 90’s we did the first upgrade of the room. Pendant fixtures with energy-saving integral fluorescent bulbs were installed, and the room was repainted in neutral colors. Around 2015 we repainted the room and removed a covering over the light well in the rear of the room, which allowed natural light back into the room and exposed the beautiful Wissahickon schist stone walls that now add so much character to the room.

This year (2023) B&G realized that because the Dining Room is a heavily used space, the paint on the walls was not holding up well, and there was plaster damage in various areas. The Bulletin Boards were a mishmash of random styles, colors and placement, with many outdated flyers. As well, the room’s poor acoustics made it difficult to hear others in a conversation whenever a large group gathered, such as during Fellowship Hour. Many older members with hearing issues were not able to converse in the room and therefore did not attend Fellowship Hour, which, in our view, was a discrimination issue and not acceptable for a UU Church.  

B&G member George Buckmann researched the sound issues in the room, working with a company that specializes in sound absorption ceiling panels, and presented the committee with a design drawing and pricing for the panels and their installation. We contracted with that company for the panels,  but hired  a  local carpenter who has done other work for us who did the installation  at  ½ the price that the ceiling panel company would have charged. We have been very pleased with the results of this phase of the work. We have gotten such comments as “There is a sense of relaxation and calm in the room, now that there is no longer voices and noise echoing all over,” and “Now I can talk to someone in a normal tone of voice, without speaking right into their ear.”  

Next step was the repainting.  This time around we chose an extremely durable paint from Sherwin Willaims, their Emerald urethane semi-gloss paint.

For the bulletin boards, we got help from my daughter Lauren Silver, who is a director of operations for the Uncommon Charter Schools in Brooklyn. She shared her powerpoint on Bulletin Boards and how they are an important tool in expressing the culture of institutions, and gave  specific recommendations for  sourcing of materials for designing and decorating them.  

Does any one remember reading Erma Bombeck? She wrote a story about getting new curtains for a room, then realizing how bad the paint on the walls looked with the new curtains, and how bad the carpet looked, etc, and before you know it, realizing the whole room needed a complete makeover. Well, with the new ceiling panels and painted walls and bulletin boards, it hit us in the face that the finish of the wood floors as well as the baseboards, doors, and other moldings looked extremely dull and dirty. We also noticed numerous soft spots in the floors that indicated some wood damage below. Pieces of baseboard were loose and some were missing. We also noticed what we think were some mouse holes in the woodwork backing the outside wall. We  brought back our carpenter to do remedial work on the soft sections of flooring and baseboards. When he opened up the soft spots, we discovered some old termite and water damage, which were then repaired. In order to provide some savings on the job, B&G members purchased and delivered all of the materials needed for the repairs. Then the painter returned and sanded down all the woodwork in the room, touched up stains where needed, and applied two coats of a nice clear coat finish. 

Now, the biggest challenge – the floors. They had been sanded many times in the past, and now the boards were too thin to re-sand. George reached out to a floor refinisher he knew from his work as a director of Habitat for Humanity . Happy Floors is a local firm owned by Brenda Murphy, who believes that wood floors are a true thing of beauty and focuses on creative ways to restore them. She recommended a light sanding, called a screening, which does not sand the wood itself down but  just removes the surface finish, and then re-coating the floor with a high quality polyurethane floor finish. This process requires that the finish be an oil base so it’s compatible with traces of finish left on the wood floor. Unfortunately, we could not use the low-odor, quick-drying, water-based urethane.  

The refinishing was scheduled for a week that would allow enough drying time before our summer rental, Fun In the Sun Day Camp, began. But the best-laid plans…! That week just happened to be the week smoke settled in Philadelphia from Canadian wildfires. Although we did our best to seal off the space and create ventilation,  between the smoke and the fumes from the oil based urethane, our office and ministerial staff deserved combat pay for working that week in a building with odors of oil-based paint  and smoke that was described to us something like the smell of gasoline. 

Now for the final important finishing touches. As USG is a church, I think of the saying, ”God is in the details.” We replaced a broken glass dome to one of the pendant lights. We rehung the exit directional signs in new attractive frames, and  replaced broken outlet covers, got someone in for a  thorough post- construction clean-up, including cleaning all surfaces that had debris on them from the sanding,  cleaning windows, and cleaning all light fixtures and giving all of the glass domes a well-needed washing. Finally, still in progress, we are installing new silicone and felt chair and table leg caps to prevent scratching of the floor.

Many thanks to George Buckmann, Carolyn Cotton, Deb Kish-Silver, Lynne Kalish, Eric Foster, and of course our stalwart office staff, Celeste Lamb and Carolyn Scott, for their assistance and support with this project.

If any of you have a love of old buildings, and would like to volunteer to help USG with our work , please get in touch! Reach us at

Here is a breakdown of the job costs-

Acoustical Ceiling Panels-                   $4,550

Ceiling Panel installation-                    $1,820

Painting and plastering-walls               $3,200

Floor and woodwork repair-materials  $   800                                    

Floor and woodwork repair -labor        $   950. 

Floor refinishing                                    $3,060

Woodwork refinishing                           $3,000.

Clean up                                               $   100.

Light fixture cover and other misc,       $   200.

Total project……………………………..$17,680.