First Baptist Church rebuilding hits snags

July 25, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

Settlement with furnace company will support the project

JP CENTER—The reconstruction of the First Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain officially began in May, but work on the first phase of the plan has gotten off to a slower start than the congregation had hoped for.

The 149-year-old church building at the corner of Centre and Myrtle streets was all but destroyed in a January 2005 fire. After close to three-and-a-half years of planning and fundraising, work was to begin in earnest this spring.

Meanwhile, First Baptist pastor Ashlee Wiest-Laird told the Gazette, the church in the last few months reached a settlement in a suit it filed against Hughes Oil Company and Home Comfort Control on the grounds that improper installation of the church’s furnace caused the fire.

Wiest-Laird would not say how much money the church got in the settlement.

It is unclear whether both companies were party to the settlement or whether or not either party admitted to any wrongdoing. Representatives from Hughes Oil and a lawyer representing Home Comfort Control did not return Gazette phone calls by press time.

When the church first announced the suit in October 2006, Wiest-Laird told the Gazette she had learned from a private fire investigator that “the furnace was installed improperly, was full of soot and not vented properly.”

Phase one of the two-phase project was to include shoring up the stone exterior walls of the church that survived the fire; putting on a new roof; rebuilding the ground-floor of the church; and reinstalling utilities.

Since a May reconstruction groundbreaking, however, it has been discovered that portions of the church’s exterior walls are not salvageable.

Instead of simply reinforcing those walls, they will have to be rebuilt from the church’s second-floor sanctuary level up, said Nancy Sweeney, First Baptist’s Church Moderator, or lay leader.

As of July 15, architectural plans were in the process of being revised by the church’s Waltham-based architect, The Office of Michael Rosenfeld, Sweeney said. The revised plans should be ready “any day,” she said. “It’s a little glitch in timing. We hope to make it up.”

According to the First Baptist’s June newsletter, other site work—including exterior utilities preparation—is ongoing. “We anticipate that by the beginning of September the actual work will begin,” the newsletter says.

Sweeney said fundraising efforts are mostly on-track. An ongoing capital campaign has raised $1.2 million, over half of its $2.2 million goal, she said.

At the same time, recent fundraising events the church has held have drawn low turnouts, she said, and the church is rethinking its fundraising strategy.

If the church meets its capital campaign goal, that funding along with a $2.65 million insurance payout and money from the settlement with the furnace company, should be enough to cover both phases of the project, Sweeney said.

The church’s second-floor sanctuary will be rebuilt in phase two. In March, Wiest-Laird estimated the project will cost between $7 million and $8 million. If that estimate is still correct, it can be estimated that the church got around $2 million to $3 million in the settlement.

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