James Island Church working to rebuild one year after devastating fire
JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s been a challenging year for Fort Johnson Baptist Church on James Island after a massive fire essentially destroyed its sanctuary and adjoining classrooms.
The church, however, has overcome multiple hurdles in the past 12 months and has started construction and rebuilding with the hope of having everything back open for the congregation in less than a year, church leaders say.
It was a lightning strike that caused the devastating fire at the church last September. That morning, fire engulfed the steeple as smoke poured from the building.
“By the time I got here, with stoplights and traffic, the roof had caved in, and everything was up in smoke,” Pastor Marty Middleton says.
The flames, smoke and water caused irreparable damage to the sanctuary and adjoining classrooms, he says.
“The insurance company and our construction team went back and forth on whether they should save the walls or tear it down and start over completely,” he says. “But because it was built so well back in the 60s, they were able to save the structure, which has its positives and its negatives.”
Since the fire, restoring the church has been a challenging project.
“We couldn’t get the moisture out,” Middleton says. “Mold covered the whole building. It ended up, as they’re doing the demolition, having asbestos in there. That whole process led to a gutting of the building.”
Those obstacles have been coupled with the need to upgrade facilities to meet new codes, tackle insurance snags and permitting, and maneuver supply and staffing shortages—all while services have continued at Fort Johnson Baptist.
“They had everything pulled together, that by the next Sunday, so three or four days later we were all sitting in church learning about the fire, grateful no one was hurt,” church member Jennifer Batliner says.
They’ve demolished the interior of the church, clearing everything out inside until just the exterior stands, Middleton says. They have also just started the construction and rebuilding process, installing plumbing and reconfiguring classrooms.
“We’re thinking we’ll be back in the classroom for January or February,” he says. “And then the sanctuary itself, probably the beginning of next summer is when we’ll be able open up the doors back there.”
Amid the construction and renovations, Batliner says she is counting down the days until she can walk through those doors and into the newly refurbished sanctuary.
“I think it’s going to feel like a homecoming — peaceful and a new beginning, but without losing the old,” she says.
A majority of the funds to rebuild the church have come from insurance, Middleton says, but tens of thousands of dollars have come from donations from the community, other churches and other groups.
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