Valley News – Church in Lebanon close to returning to services years after arsonist torched it

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LEBANON — Nearly six years after an arsonist burned down the First Baptist Church, worshipers are preparing to worship in the new School Street building.

“We’re on our last legs here,” Stephen Girdwood, who chairs the church’s board, said of the rebuilding process. “What we hopefully arrive is a certificate of occupancy which will allow us to enter and use part of the building.”

The objective is to relaunch services before the end of the year. Currently, the congregation, which has 100 to 150 members, meets at the Masonic Lodge in Lebanon and online. Construction of the new building to replace the neo-Gothic structure built in 1870 began in late 2019, three years after the fire in late December 2016.

“We’re a few years beyond what we originally hoped for, but we’re moving forward,” Girdwood said.

The goal is to complete the interior of the building so that the church can obtain its certificate of occupancy as construction continues on the rest of the building.

“We need to make sure we finish what is necessary for the fire code, things like having everything muddy and taped to the drywall, having the fire doors installed in the stairwells,” said Girdwood.

The COVID-19 pandemic and fundraising difficulties have contributed to project delays. Initial estimates were around $2.5 million.

“We had about a little over $2 million in insurance proceeds,” Girdwood said. “We thought we would be good to raise a few hundred thousand dollars.”

When launched in the fall of 2018, the cost rose to $3.6 million. This left the congregation to find $1.2 million to fund construction.

“It was a combination of probably our estimators weren’t as accurate as they could have been as well as the skyrocketing construction cost,” Girdwood said. “We closed that gap with construction funding and then just a wonderful response from our members and the community at large to get us to the point of occupation here.”

Since 2020, construction costs have increased and labor shortages have made it more difficult for contractors to plan. The congregation also tries to be financially prudent.

“The other big thing is that we don’t want to program contractors until we have the money,” Girdwood said. “It’s fundraising, weather and contractor schedules all play a role in when this is going to happen.”

He estimated that it would take $10,000 to $20,000 to complete the work necessary to obtain the certificate of occupancy and $100,000 to $150,000 to complete the entire building, including $35,000 at $40,000 for the steeple alone.

“We are very close to what we need for the first floor occupation, but we are looking to continue fundraising until we can finish the building, which means completely finishing the second floor and getting the basement, the fellowship room and the kitchen all put together,” Girdwood said.

In addition to asking for donations, church members also held fundraisers. Terry Bolduc is hosting a garage sale and BBQ from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday at the Montessori School at 22 School Street. She held a similar fundraiser last year that raised about $4,000.

“We continue to have fellowship and move forward with ministries, but just having our own building would be wonderful,” Bolduc said.

For the past several years, Sally Cole has planted flowers and done other landscaping work on the exterior of the new building.

‘Helping him have a nice presence on the outside while all the construction is going on’ is Cole’s intention, she said while cleaning outside the church earlier this month . “School Street is a busy street, and people were stopping and asking questions.”

In a way, the rebuilding of the church is felt community-wide, just as her destruction of the church resonated beyond the congregation through the void she left in a road. busy downtown Lebanon.

“The burnt site was pretty sad for a while,” said Clifton Below, a city councilor and businessman in Lebanon. “It was a hole in the fabric of the neighborhood, so it’s great to see it come to an end.”

Below is one of the many community members who donated money to help defray construction costs.

“I don’t attend this church, but I wanted to help them recover,” Under said.

Anthony Boisvert, of Lebanon, is currently serving a 25-year sentence for setting the fire and a host of other charges related to the events after the fire.

“Of my time here, I think that’s probably the biggest,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos, who served the city for about 20 years, said of the 2016 fire. We are lucky that no one was injured.”

Seeing the new church emerge was welcome.

“I think it’s fantastic that they are able to come back from this tragedy,” Christopoulos said.

In the meantime, worshipers look forward to the day when they can once again worship in their own sanctuary.

“It’s been a really tough time through it all, but honestly we’re excited and we’re hopeful and we know we’re going to get there,” said Bolduc, who has attended the church for 35 years. “We know God has a plan, and His timing is not ours, so we wait patiently.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.

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