Church - ExteriorHistoric Church Gets Electrical Facelift

Until the late 1800s, the largest Catholic church in Omaha did not have a priest. After laying the cornerstone in 1888, St. John’s Church became an official church in 1897, with a priest and a plan to renovate in tow. By 1927, the entirety of the main building work was complete.

Electrical technology at the time wasn’t nearly as safe as what is available today. To keep the building and its visitors, congregants and staff safe, the church’s electrical wiring needed an upgrade.

“St. John’s is a beautiful, historic wooden church. It was built so well and has a lot of life left in it,” says Matt Wolbach, an electrician with Miller Electric. “We can extend its life by updating the electrical service throughout it.”

That project was no small task, as Matt Wolbach, Kelly Mumm, Heath Hargens and Steve Freilinger soon discovered. “We were sent out to trace and label circuits and look for old abandoned knob and tube wiring that was still hot,” Wolbach says. “The more we looked, the more knob and tube and brittle cloth wiring we found.”

Crawling Below Ground, Covered in Cloth WireChurch

Wolbach, Mumm, Hargens and Freilinger all crawled beneath the church floors and to locate both hot and neutral wires. In addition to abundant cracked insulation and brittle cloth wires, the Miller team even found an old 60 amp panel with exposed busbars, which posed a definite safety concern.

“We told them we could replace this panel with another one and divide up the circuits for them,” Wolbach recalls. “Of course we worked on the wiring de-energized but without blueprints, we were working blind. We’d get into outlet boxes, pull out the device and the wire would either crumble in our hands or there would be no insulation on it.”

The team would trace all the circuits they could reach, turn them off, disconnect them at the panel and then pull the wires out from the panel to the device to replace them. When they encountered difficulty, they would insert fish tape into the pipe and listen for sounds. “That’s how we found hidden outlet boxes that had been covered up by plaster,” says Wolbach.

St. John’s staff has been thankful for the diligent and careful work the Miller crew has been taking on the project. “They have been great to work with,” says Kathleen Denne, Business Manager for St. John’s Church. “They’re really flexible, provide good information about their work and have noticed greater concerns beyond the electrical work and have shared that with us. There’s never been any delays and they’ve always provided additional power sources while switching out plugs.”

ChurchAttention to detail and going the extra mile for the customer have always been a hallmark of Miller Electric’s service, so it was just second nature to the team to find ways to deliver more value to the customer. “We found a few instances of burned up plugs that were still in use,” says Wolbach. “We added a few extra outlets in one particular area that had been a living room but was converted into office space so the staff could get rid of the extension cords they were using and work safely.”

That kind of attention to detail made an impression on Denne. “They are great guys and we would love to have them back any time we need electrical work done.”

Miller continues to provide Omaha businesses with preventive and predictive service plans to lengthen the life of electrical systems, reduce accidents and save organizations time and money. Learn more about our Proactive Maintenance and schedule a free consultation to review your current system needs.