FOLLY BEACH - It's been more than three years since the Morris Island Lighthouse received a new, $2 million foundation, and many think its restoration is complete.
Save the Light events
Those working to restore the Morris Island Lighthouse have scheduled these fundraising events for early next year.
Jan. 12 - Oyster roast at Bowen's Island, 2-5 p.m., $25.
Feb. 1 - Save the Light half marathon and 5K, 8:30 a.m.
March 27 - Gala at Tides Folly Beach.
For more information, call 633-0099, email email@example.com or visit savethelight.org.
But that's not the case.
The nonprofit Save the Light is launching a new fundraising push in hopes of raising another $2 million for a final set of repairs, including the replacement of its glass lantern and a new paint job that will dramatically change its appearance.
Al Hitchcock, chairman of Save the Light, said raising money for this final phase is more challenging, because the 19th century lighthouse and its new foundation don't face an immediate catastrophic threat from a hurricane or earthquake.
"The hardest part is trying to keep the public motivated to realize that, hey, we've still got to do something to help that lighthouse," Hitchcock said. "That's why we came up with the theme, 'We're not done yet.'"
Hitchcock said the nonprofit has been discussing the possible work with Dick Youtz, a sales engineer with International Chimney Corp., which moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina a decade ago.
Youtz, whose company has worked on about three dozen lighthouses on the east and west coasts, has served as a sort of informal consultant to date, reviewing the lighthouse's condition and suggesting what might be feasible, cost-effective repairs.
"The idea that it's done and now we can relax is an unfortunate misconception," Youtz said. "I was overwhelmed at my most recent visit (on Labor Day weekend) at the accelerated deterioration of the structure in recent years. And it's only going to get worse. There is a real sense of urgency."
Youtz said the lighthouse needs to have its lantern replaced so rain no longer leaks into the structure, and it also needs structural work on the gallery level to address rust on the steel brackets.
"Getting it closed up to keep the water and birds out is probably the first priority," he said.
Lastly, the exterior masonry needs repair and repainting to keep moisture out. "If you look at the mortar joints, the black paint was the first to deteriorate because of the surface heat," he said. "Those mortar joints (between bricks) in the black bands are eroded out much deeper than the white band because they've been exposed for a longer time."
Hitchcock said that work is expected to cost more than $2 million, but added, "It's a sizeable project, and we don't have a good handle on it yet."
He said he also is not sure how soon the work could begin; that will depend in part on how quickly the nonprofit can raise money.
Save the Light has a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank, and the state kicks in about $40,000 per year from motorists buying Morris Island Lighthouse license plates.
The nonprofit plans several events in the next few months, including a Jan. 12 oyster roast, to raise more money, and it already has sold $5,000 sponsorships for 30 of the lighthouse's 203 stairs.
"We're really looking for a major sponsor or a major donor," he added. "If we could get that, we might be tempted to borrow more money and make it happen."
The stabilization work on the lighthouse, which involved sinking 68 new micropiles, was completed in the summer of 2010, and Hitchcock said Save the Light supporters are getting excited about the prospects of tackling the final phase.
"We just now can preserve the lighthouse itself," he said. "It's been sitting there for 51 years with no maintenance at all."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.