Reconstruction under way at St. Elmo UMC

Reconstruction under way at St. Elmo UMC

July 6th, 2011 by Rebecca Miller in Local Regional News

St. Elmo United Methodist Church is being transformed from a burned-out shell on St. Elmo Avenue into a modern worship and gathering place for the church's congregation.

St. Elmo United Methodist Church pastor Mark Dowell watches over reconstruction efforts following a fire.

Photo by Rebecca Miller/Times Free Press.

"They are predicting it to all be done by Christmas," said pastor Mark Dowell, who added that he hopes the rainy weather won't affect that estimate. "It will look like a different building when it's done."

St. Elmo UMC was built in 1921 and was all but destroyed in August 2009 after an electrical short on the third floor sparked and caught the roof on fire. The flames consumed most of the structure, leaving only three brick walls safely intact.

"Insurance is covering it all," said Dowell. "It was hard to get it into budget, but we managed. We are all extremely excited and I am especially glad to see a roof on that thing after two years."

Dowell said the total cost for reconstruction of the main building, putting on a new wing and adding a gymnasium behind the church will be $3.7 million. Between $60,000 and $80,000 of the reconstruction cost is going toward a detailed washing and pinpointing of all the bricks in the three remaining walls of the original structure. Dowell said church members may need to host fundraising projects later in the year to raise money for necessities like tables and chairs.

According to the plans for the rebuild, a wing will extend out from the church's side toward West 47th Street. The new wing will be devoted to educational classrooms and a nursery. Dowell said CDH designed the wing with large windows so people driving or walking past the church will still be able to see the church's original brick wall and new stained-glass windows.

Behind the church, a gymnasium will be built, but Dowell said it will be only half or three-fourths the size of a full gymnasium. The facility will be used for community events and church initiatives like a basketball program for inner-city youth. Dowell said he hopes to increase the church's focus on health within its own congregation as well as in the surrounding community.

Construction began in early June and is progressing rapidly despite delays caused by weather. CDH out of Atlanta, Ga., created the church's new modern design while Strauss Construction Company is acting as the contractor.

Even before the fire, Dowell said there were issues keeping up with maintenance on the church which was old and outdated in more than just wiring. The third floor was an attic area that was leaky and nearly useless.

Email Rebecca W. Miller at rmiller@timesfreepress.com.