Fire Recovery Update—Jan 30

The Fire Recovery Committee and the recently-appointed Blue Sky Team will be providing regular updates to the Church Council and congregation on our fire recovery.  Here’s the latest news:

Sanctuary Renovation   
Work is underway to repair the Sanctuary roof and ceiling structures damaged in the fire. All the pews had to be removed and an extensive array of interior and exterior scaffolding erected to enable workers to safely access the roof and attic. A temporary hatch has been installed in the Sanctuary roof, through which lumber and other construction materials will be brought into the attic. The cloister balcony has been reinforced so it can hold the weight of scaffolding and stacks of heavy slate roof tiles that will replace those damaged in the fire.  All this preliminary work required approval by the city of Berkeley.

It will take four or five months to complete the repairs. The last steps will be to replace the water-damaged carpeting and reinstall the pews. We anticipate that, if all goes well, our Sanctuary will be ready for use again by early summer. We’re thankful that we will be able to continue using Beth El as our temporary worship space until the restoration is finished.

Pilgrim Hall Assessment
The fire left Pilgrim Hall unstable and unsafe for entry. In the months since the fire, specialized crews have been working to stabilize the walls, remove debris, and mitigate asbestos, lead paint and other hazards. This work had to be done with painstaking care and with the approval of local authorities, to ensure that all hazardous material was safely contained and removed without putting anyone at risk or polluting the environment. The clean-up was a necessary task before we could proceed with evaluating the full extent of damage from the fire. We’re almost done now, so in a week or so the inspecting engineers will be able to safely conduct their assessment of the building. We should know soon if Pilgrim Hall can be repaired and what that might entail. The Blue Sky Team will then lead us in discerning how the restoration or rebuilding of Pilgrim Hall should be shaped to support the future ministry of our church. The Blue Sky Team will work with the Fire Recovery Committee to turn the congregation’s vision into an achievable building plan.

Financial Recovery
We have received a partial payment of $6 million from our insurers for losses recognized so far. We expect to get more once all the costs of the fire have been tallied. Our insurance, with blanket coverage for $16.3 million, will pay for repairing the Sanctuary and will pay what it would cost to restore or rebuild Pilgrim Hall as it was before the fire. However, we can’t recreate Pilgrim just as it was, because it must be upgraded to current building codes. We have coverage for the extra cost of code upgrades, but it’s limited to $500,000; that’s probably half of what the code work will cost. If we decide to add other improvements or create more space than we had before, that will add to the shortfall. As for our lost income and extra expenses while we’re displaced, we’re covered for $500,000, but that’s also going to be short.

So, we know we’ll need more than our insurance proceeds to fully fund the recovery, but we can’t say yet how much more -- a lot depends on how the vision for Pilgrim Hall takes shape and how soon we can turn it into reality. Our rough estimate at this time is that our shortfall would be on the order of $1 to $1.5 million if we were to rebuild what we had with improvements only as required by code. We’re blessed to have received, so far, about $100,000 in donations to help fill the gap. As our rebuilding plans take shape and our needs become clearer, the Fire Recovery Committee will work with the Blue Sky Team and Church Council to develop additional funding options for the congregation to consider.

We have reason to be confident that our needs will be met. Reverend Molly reminds us that, “As to the shortfall, God has not let us down. Whether it be it a capital campaign or visionary building partners, we will come into a solution that will make God's dreams for our campus a reality.”