Saugatuck Church fire update: Progress on the long road ahead
Updated 3:52 pm, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Even though the cause of the Nov. 20 fire that heavily damaged the Saugatuck Congregational Church remains undetermined, church officials say progress is being made in restoring the historic structure.
Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury said that, as of Wednesday, the fire marshal's investigation of the six-hour blaze had yet to pinpoint the cause.
The fire heavily damaged the rear section of the Post Road East complex, which housed church offices, meeting rooms, a nursery school and kitchen.
However, the 179-year-old sanctuary, which suffered smoke and water damage, was largely spared the more serious ravages of the blaze.
So even as the fire investigation continues, church officials are moving forward with plans to rebuild the section of the structure destroyed by fire and to renovate the sanctuary.
In a statement posted on the church's website this week, John Walsh, the chairman of the church board of trustees, said that, "despite a long road ahead," there has been "lots of activity and significant progress in dealing with the myriad of issues involving the aftermath of the church fire.
"Cleaning of the church building is a major endeavor to mitigate the effects of smoke and water damage. Cleaning, deodorizing, and in some cases removal of floor and ceiling tiles is going on," he wrote. "Some areas are down to studs and joists as we look to eliminate the smoke odor."
Walsh reports that the chandelier has been removed from the sanctuary and put in storage. And scaffolding has been erected in the sanctuary so workers can take down the ceiling without damaging the pews, which have been blanketed for protection during the restoration project.
"The insurance investigators continued their work, but did release the Choir Room. This enabled the room to be cleared so that scaffolding can be erected and tarps put down to protect the rear of the sanctuary," Walsh wrote.
Walsh also said that a meeting he described as "very important" took place with the insurance companies' lead adjuster and team. "We introduced our insurance consultant who we are confident will serve our interests well in this challenging process. The meeting was very constructive as we established a framework for how we will proceed to address the many issues involved," he said.
Church officials have also established an Architectural Committee to vet architects for designing and rebuilding the fire-damaged sections of the complex.
Plans also call for the church to open a temporary office close to the church property in downtown Westport.
Meanwhile, the Saugatuck Nursery School, whose rooms had been located in the heavily damaged section of the church, reopened temporarily Dec. 6 at the Westport Weston Family Y.
Walsh said the congregation is also "heartened by the support of so many like the Y's Men who made a $3,000 contribution to the church. The unity and energy of our congregation to move forward is exhilarating. We are optimistic that we are well on our way to rebuilding our church."