Burned church won’t rebuild damaged building

Posted Monday, Aug. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information To contribute to the rebuilding project, visit the church website at www.woldfw.org.

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Almost four months after watching a fire ravage his Word of Life Family Church, Pastor Wayne Biggs says he’s not planning to rebuild it – as least not as it was.

The next construction project he sees for his church is a larger, more inviting, atrium-style entrance to the sanctuary, which was spared by the work of firefighters and a cinder-block firewall that limited the destruction to the original, 16-year-old building.

The charred remains of that two-story building and its 5,000 feet of classrooms and offices were recently bulldozed and cleared from the church campus at 2200 U.S. 287 North. Biggs said the newer 13,000-square-foot building, which opened in 2006 and includes the current sanctuary, has about 6,000 square feet of unfinished space upstairs that will be converted into classrooms.

“It’s just going to be much more efficient doing it the way we’re going to do it,” Biggs said last week. “All the classrooms will be in one area. Before, they were spread into two different wings in the building.”

The fire on April 25 was swift. The fire department received the alarm at 9:39 p.m., and first responders arriving four minutes later saw flames leaping from the roof, said Fire Marshal Clay Cawood.

“Once we got into the attic, it was fully involved in the attic,” Cawood said.

Ten fire trucks and 17 firefighters, including some from Arlington, fought the fire for more than four hours, he said.

Biggs said insurance investigators determined the fire started in an air-conditioning component in the attic.

Many in the congregation who had been notified about the fire that night hurried to the church.

“At first I was in shock a little bit, not really realizing how bad it was,” said church secretary Carol Jackson, who is among a 175-member congregation. “As soon as I saw the fire, I was devastated that it was that big.”

Biggs, while comforted in knowing the church had insurance coverage, said he still suffered watching the building that was the church’s first permanent home go up in flames.

“We built it from scratch,” Biggs said. “I was just thinking of all the hours and hours of effort that had gone into that.”

He and his congregation had lived an almost nomadic existence since he founded the church in 1980, meeting to worship in leased offices and school cafeterias. “We’ve met everywhere,” Biggs said.

Then the church acquired its current site, 2200 U.S. 287 North, in 1996, holding services initially in a tent, then a gazebo on the property before the first church building opened the next year, and the new sanctuary a decade later, said youth director Caleb Olson.

Olson said that although the attic and roof were destroyed, damage throughout the building was extensive. From some parts of the ground floor, he said, “you could see the sky.”

Fire Chief Barry Bondurant said the sanctuary was built under current international fire codes and was equipped with a sprinkler system, although it wasn’t needed during the fire mostly because of the effectiveness of the firewall.

In fact, in spite of a little smoke and water damage, the congregation was able to use the sanctuary for services the next Sunday.

“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” Olson said, adding that a foot-high strip of soggy sheetrock had to be cut away from the bottom of virtually every wall in the building, including the 7,000-square-foot sanctuary. “We were fighting the smoke smell at times. But we’re not a congregation that’s going to lay down and let things going on around us get the best of us.”

Meanwhile, the church has received an insurance check for about $650,000, mostly for the total loss of the original building, which was demolished and cleared away two weeks ago. The church property’s total value on the Tarrant County tax rolls is listed as $2.23 million.

Biggs said the church has decided to apply that money to its mortgage and mount a fund-raising campaign for the planned 2,000-square-foot atrium, a more challenging project that likely will require hiring a contractor.

Olson said the insurance check cut the church’s debt in half.

Scripturally, we talk about a debtor – you’re a slave to the issuer of the financing,” said Olson. “We’re probably just under four years left on (the mortgage). And that’s why the pastor is adamant …. We will not go into any debt to build anything anymore.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann

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