Church members okay rebuilding plans

February 16, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI

JP CENTER—The congregation of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain voted this Sunday to approve a two-phase-renovation plan for the building at the corner of Centre and Myrtle streets that was ravaged by fire in January, 2005. A 150-foot steeple and the exterior of the building that remain will serve as the frame of the renovated building.

Almost the entire congregation voted in favor of the church council’s proposal, said Pastor Ashlee Wiest-Laird in a Gazette interview. There were two votes of abstention and none against the plan.

“We’re very happy and we hope we can get someone hired real soon,” she said.

The first part of the recommendation is to hire a contractor. A capital campaign to make up the difference between insurance money collected as a result of the fire ($2.7 million) and the estimated cost of renovation ($3.5 million) is the second.

“We’re trying to be practical about what kind of space is best for the congregation and the community and the one that is the most realistic to our financial situation, said Wiest-Laird.

The council began meeting with prospective contractors Monday afternoon and will continue to do so in the next few weeks. Construction would start as soon as possible and could be finished within 10 months.

According to Jessica Shumaker, spokesperson for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the church is zoned in a neighborhood overlay district, not a historic district. This would normally mean the plans would be subject to design review by the City of Boston Zoning Board of Appeal. But due to the fact that the structure is a church and renovation plans are for an existing structure, it will not need a full Article 80 review.

The first phase of the proposed design for the 13th-century-English-gothic style church at 633 Centre St., will be to stabilize the exterior of the building and gut the interior. The building’s infrastructure, such as the windows and frames, would be rebuilt. Plans also call for establishing a ground floor with a parish hall, office space, class space and a kitchen.

The second phase, to be completed at a later date, would include work to the second floor, including the sanctuary, and digging out the basement to create more useable space. Services would be held in the parish hall until the second phase is completed.

Wiest-Laird said the church council has been working with architects from the Offices of Mike Rosenfeld of West Acton, Mass., for the past 18 months brainstorming and finalizing plans.

She said progress has been sluggish due to the church’s pending suit with
the Cambridge Mutual Fire Insurance company against “third parties,” whom they allege bear “fault for the fire.”

Renovations at the site could not start until all parties involved in the case on both sides had ample time to walk through and observe the site. But now the church has received the legal go-ahead from its legal team, said Wiest-Laird.

The pastor appeared before the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) board at its monthly meeting at the Rogerson House, Feb. 5, to announce the news.

Last month, a JPA board member Terry Power said the trailer and burned-out church on Centre Street were an eye-sore.

This month, some members of the JPA board said they wished the original architecture of the building could be restored, specifically the broken back type roof that was supported by 12 columns before. The new roofline will resemble an A-frame.

But others said they recognized the church’s preference to rebuild as they saw best for their own congregation and for the betterment of the community as a whole.

“We encourage you to attempt to rebuild the building as close to the original form as possible,” said JPA member board Kevin Moloney.

“We’re trying to honor the building’s history,” said Wiest-Laird. “Before it was real pretty, but some things didn’t work. We also have to be practical, make choices and prioritize.”

“A house of worship is like a personal house,” said JPA board member John Papson. “I don’t think the community should get too caught up in the details, as opposed to what’s generally happening there.”

“It is a central building in the community, not a private house off of the street,” said JPA board member Charlie Fox. “So I do think the community should be somewhat involved.”

“We’re happy to come to the neighborhood organizations to talk about what we’re doing,” said Wiest-Laird. “People have different stylistic preferences. On one hand it is our building. But on the other hand, it is a community space and has a commanding presence.”

The church was built between 1856-1859. It serves as a meeting place for a number of youth programs, neighborhood organizations and other congregations like the JP Haitian Congregation and the JP Quakers.

“We really have a vision for a space that is not just for us but for the community as well,” said Wiest-Laird. “I’m eager to get the building cleaned out and organized.”